Protecting fish spawning aggregations

Mkunguni co-management area

Map of Mkunguni fisheries co-management area with two community conservation areas shown as rectangular areas.

A new community-based fisheries management approach, which combines Locally Managed Marine Areas (LMMAs) and the occurrence of temporary spawning aggregations of fishes, has started in Kenya. The example comes from Msambweni on the south coast and builds on our research on the phenomenon of site specific spawning aggregations in reef fishes that are important in local fisheries.

Spawning aggregations in reef fishes are well known globally and their vulnerability to overfishing has been well documented. Our research in Kenya took three years and was participatory in nature involving local fishing community members and their knowledge of these phenomena. The research resulted in the verification of the location and timing of spawning aggregations in two species: the rabbit fish Siganus sutor and the grouper Epinephelus fuscoguttatus. Results of this research were published in a WIOMSA book detailing the findings here.

The research also assessed the vulnerability of these two species to targeted fishing during spawning and explored management options, which was particularly pertinent to the rabbitfish since it is a major component of coastal fisheries in East Africa. Prior to this research, spawning aggregations in this species and the implications of fishers targeted these aggregations were unknown.

Interactions between researchers and the fishing community in Msambweni revolved primarily around CORDIO East Africa (the research team) and Mkunguni Beach Management Unit (BMU) though other stakeholders were also involved particularly the State Department of Fisheries (SDF) and the government Kenya Marine and Fisheries Research Institute.

Three aggregation sites were located Mapping and Survey_Mkunguni (59)within the Mkunguni BMU’s jurisdiction. Once the research was finished we presented and discussed the results with the BMU (report link). Mkunguni BMU members (along with 9 other BMUs) also participated in a seminar series for fishers on fisheries co-management approaches, including catch and effort monitoring (report link).

In 2013 Mkunguni BMU decided to close one of the rabbitfish spawning aggregation sites to fishing within their co-management area. They call this site “Arusha” and referred to it as a community conservation area (CCA) or tengefu in Kiswahili. They stipulated this No-Take-Zone (NTZ) approach in the by-laws of their co-management area which were approved by the government in 2013. They asked CORDIO to help them establish their CCA, which was supported by a UNDP-SGP grant.

In February 2015, Mkunguni celebrated when they established one CCA around one of the rabbit fish spawning aggregation sites, and wrote it into their co-management area plan. The community decision to protect a spawning aggregation of a key fishery species, despite the concomitant loss in catch during the spawning period, was undoubtedly stimulated by community involvement in the research and the subsequent efforts put into research feedback and fisheries management education to the community.

The understanding of the spawning aggregation phenomenon has provided an entry point for a fishing community to target their management and conservation efforts. It also gave them justification to the wider community for introducing a no-take CCA into their fisheries co-management area, and this has in fact led to establishing another no-take CCA close to shore (see map above).

Web links:

(1) Link to new featured content: Fish ecology and biology: Story No. 2 Spawning Aggregations