Increasing protection: fish breeding grounds

WWF’s Global Marine Programme is working around the world to protect the breeding and nursery grounds of commercial and other marine species. These protected areas can also act as havens for other species.
The protection of spawning sites is also essential in the development of ecologically representative networks of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs). In the case of commerical fish species, it's also a critical step in the creation of sustainable fisheries.

Examples of WWF's work to protect fish nursery and breeding grounds include:

  • creation of a no-take zone adjacent to Bunaken National Park, Indonesia, to protect a grouper spawning site
  • creation of the Tortugas Marine Reserve in the Florida Keys, US, which protects the Key’s most prolific spawning grounds
  • a ban on bottom trawling in the Mediterranean Sea at depths below 1,000m, which protects the nurseries for an important deep-sea shrimp fishery
  • the use of a 3D modeling system for Nui Chua National Park, Vietnam, to engage with local fishermen to identify aggregation and spawning grounds for various species including cuttlefish, mackerel, scorpion fish, and some herbivorous reef fish
Pink (humpback) salmon (<i>Oncorhynchus gorbuscha</i>) migrating to their spawning ... / ©: WWF-Canon / Michel ROGGO
Pink (humpback) salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha) migrating to their spawning site, Canada.
© WWF-Canon / Michel ROGGO

Why protect spawning sites?

Some fish species gather in large numbers at particular areas to spawn - and fishers know where these sites are and when the fish will be there. Without adequate regulation, over-zealous fishers can remove huge numbers of adult fish from a spawning site before they even have a chance to breed.

Back from the brink

For generations the Nassau grouper has been the prized catch of coral reef fishers in Belize. This tasty fish catches a high price in local markets - but its mating behaviour is driving the species off local menus. 

Adult groupers gather in large numbers at specific sites to spawn. This allows fishers to catch large numbers of them with relatively little effort. However, this also makes the Nassau grouper very vulnerable to overfishing.

Both fishers and researchers agree that there have been dramatic declines in grouper numbers over the past few decades. At Caye Glory, for example, fishermen caught thousands of groupers in the 1960s - but only 21 were seen during the 2000/2001 spawning season!

WWF joined forces with the fishing community, researchers, and a coalition of seven NGOs to persuade the Belize government to protect the Nassau grouper’s spawning sites.

As a result, the government enacted legislation to ban fishing for Nassau grouper during its spawning period and to fully protect 11 spawning sites. These closed areas are also protecting at least 20 other species of reef fish that spawn on these banks.

The protection of these fish spawning sites is a critical step towards sustainable coral reef fisheries in Belize, as well as work to create an MPA network in the Mesoamerican Reef, one of WWF's priority places.
Nassau grouper (<i>Epinephelus striatus</i>), Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Belize. / ©: WWF-Canon / Anthony B. RATH
Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus), Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Belize.
© WWF-Canon / Anthony B. RATH

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