We visually observed fish traps in situ to identify the habitats exploited by the U.S. Virgin Islands fishery and to document species composition and abundance in traps by habitat. Fishers set more traps in algal plains than in any other habitat around St. John. Coral reefs, traditionally targeted by fishers, accounted for only 16% of traps. Traps in algal plain contained the highest number of fishes per trap and the greatest numbers of preferred food species. Traps on coral reefs contained the most species, 41 of the 59 taxa observed in the study. Acanthurus coeruleus was the most abundant species and Acanthuridae the most abundant family observed in traps. Piscivore numbers were low and few serranids were observed. Traps in algal plain contained the most fishes as a result of: ecological changes such as shifts in habitat use, mobility of species and degradation of nearshore habitat (fishery independent); and, catchability of fishes and long-term heavy fishing pressure (fishery dependent). The low number of serranids per trap, dominance of the piscivore guild by a small benthic predator, Epinephelus guttatus, and dominance of trap contents overall by a small, fast-growing species of a lower trophic guild, Acanthurus coeruleus, all point to years of intense fishing pressure.
Additional publication details
The habitats exploited and the species trapped in a Caribbean island trap fishery