Great Barrier Reef officials ask fishers to no longer target herbivorous fish

Daniel Bateman The Cairns Post 5 May 17;

REEF officials may consider adding parrot fish and other seaweed-grazing species to the “no take” list to help the Great Barrier Reef recover from coral bleaching.

The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority is calling on fishers to no longer target herbivorous fish, which are controlling algal blooms within the marine park.

The Reef has suffered two consecutive mass coral bleaching events, which has devastated the northern and central regions of the natural wonder, leaving large patches of dead coral.

In the absence of coral, algae has been left to thrive, growing prolifically in areas such as around Lizard Island.

GBRMPA recovery director Dr Mark Read said herbivores such as parrot fish played a crucial role in controlling algal growth at coral reefs.

“They’re sort of cows of the coral reefs, keeping the macro-algae under control, and giving the coral the best chance to bound back,” he said.

“What is really important to recognise is that very few of those fish species are actually protected.

“So what we’re really asking people to do at this stage is to voluntarily cease their targeting of herbivorous fishes while the Reef needs a little bit of a helping hand.”

Dr Read said the authority would consider its protection options if it found cases of overfishing of herbivorous species.

“We would consider protecting them under our legislation, which would make them a no-take species,” he said.

“But ultimately, we don’t want to go to that position if we don’t need to. We want to appeal to people’s good nature and just to promote the fact that they can actually be good stewards of the Great Barrier Reef and its resources.”

To aid Reef recovery, the authority has implemented its zoning plan, water quality improvement plan and crown-of-thorns starfish control.

Dr Read said six-12 months of not targeting herbivores was an ideal time frame for the watergoing public to assist with recovery efforts.

“At the moment, every piece of coral that’s alive in the Great Barrier Reef is quite precious,” he said. “So if people are planning to go out on the Reef for a fishing trip, they need to not drop their anchor over the side on coral reefs.”