Population structure (density and size distribution) of 10 species of epibenthic kelp forest fishes was compared between three marine reserves and adjacent exploited areas in central California. We also contrasted substrate relief, algal turf cover, and kelp population density among these areas. Densities of fishes were 12-35% greater within the reserves, but this difference was not statistically) significant. Habitat features explained only 4% of the variation in fish density and did not vary consistently between reserves and nonreserves. The average length of rockfish (genus Sebastes) was significantly greater in two of the three reserve sites, as was the proportion of larger fish. Population density and size differences combined to produce substantially greater biomass and, therefore, greater reproductive potential per unit of area within the reserves. The magnitude of these effects seems to be influenced by the reserve's age. Our findings demonstrate that current levels of fishing pressure influence kelp forest rockfish populations and suggest that this effect is widespread in central California. Existing marine reserves in central California kelp forests may help sustain exploited populations both through adult emigration and larval pool augmentation. The magnitude of these effects remains uncertain, however, because the spatial scale of both larval and adult dispersal relative to the size of existing reserves is unknown.
Additional publication details
Kelp forest fish populations in marine reserves and adjacent exploited areas of central California