Volume 72

Examining the Temporal and Spatial Distribution of Baitfish Species in Bermuda’s Coastal Waters

Welch, J; T.J.T. Murdoch; S.R. Smith; J. Pitt
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Date: November, 2019

Pages: 38-40

Event: Proceedings of the Seventy-Two Annual Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute

City: Punta Cana

Country: Dominican Republic


Small fishes play a vital role in coastal food webs, but are also exploited by commercial and recreational fishers for bait. Yet the life cycles of these species are poorly understood. In Bermuda, baitfish landings have declined, but it is unclear whether this indicates population declines or altered fishing practices. Current management restricts the size and type of nets used, and prohibits net fishing in four bays. Here, we describe the annual cycles in abundance and the distribution of baitfishes in Bermuda’s coastal waters to inform the management of these important species. Visual surveys of baitfish presence and school composition were conducted approximately weekly for one year at 6 bays, including two bays closed to net fishing, with additional opportunistic surveys. Observations revealed variability between the annual cycles of the 6 key inshore baitfish species, informing a broadscale survey, conducted in the fall of 2018, to capture the peak abundance of the most species. Using a drone and vessel-based visual observations, we surveyed 95 km of shoreline, covering long distances per day to get an overview of baitfish presence/absence, school sizes and species composition, while avoiding confounding by movements between surveys. Species composition was validated with net samples and snorkel surveys. Dense schools of Bermuda anchovy were present in sheltered bays around the island. Reef silversides were present in loose shoals along most lee shores. Redear herring, found in deeper areas of sheltered bays, was the most abundant of the larger species. Dwarf herring were under-represented as their abundance peaks earlier in the year. Threadfin herring and Round sardinella were the least abundant species in all surveys. Understanding the abundance and distribution of baitfishes opens up various management options.

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