Using fishers’ anecdotes, naturalists’ observations and grey literature to reassess marine species at risk: the case of the Gulf grouper in the Gulf of California, Mexico

Authors

  • Andrea Sáenz–Arroyo,

    1. Comunidad y Biodiversidad A.C., Bahía de Bacochibampo, S/N Colonia Lomas de Cortés, Guaymas, 85450 Sonora, México
    2. Environment Department, University of York, York YO10 5DD, UK
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Callum M. Roberts,

    1. Environment Department, University of York, York YO10 5DD, UK
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Jorge Torre,

    1. Comunidad y Biodiversidad A.C., Bahía de Bacochibampo, S/N Colonia Lomas de Cortés, Guaymas, 85450 Sonora, México
    Search for more papers by this author
  • Micheline Cariño-Olvera

    1. Universidad Autónoma de Baja California Sur, Área Interdisciplinaria de Ciencias Sociales, Apartado Postal 19 -B, La Paz, 23080 Baja California Sur, México
    Search for more papers by this author

Andrea Sáenz–Arroyo, Comunidad y Biodiversidad A.C., Bahía de Bacochibampo, S/N Colonia Lomas de Cortés, Guaymas, 85450 Sonora, México
Tel.: +52622-2212670
Fax: +52622-2212671
E-mail: asaenz@cobi.org.mx

Abstract

Designing fishing policies without knowledge of past levels of target species abundance is a dangerous omission for fisheries management. However, as fisheries monitoring started long after exploitation of many species began, this is a difficult issue to address. Here we show how the ‘shifting baseline’ syndrome can affect the stock assessment of a vulnerable species by masking real population trends and thereby put marine animals at serious risk. Current fishery data suggest that landings of the large Gulf grouper (Mycteroperca jordani, Serranidae) are increasing in the Gulf of California. However, reviews of historical evidence, naturalists’ observations and a systematic documentation of fishers’ perceptions of trends in the abundance of this species indicate that it has dramatically declined. The heyday for the Gulf grouper fishery occurred prior to the 1970s, after which abundance dropped rapidly, probably falling to a few percent of former numbers. This decline happened long before fishery statistics were formally developed. We use the case of the Gulf grouper to illustrate how other vulnerable tropical and semi-tropical fish and shellfish species around the world may be facing the same fate as the Gulf grouper. In accordance with other recent studies, we recommend using historical tools as part of a broad data-gathering approach to assess the conservation status of marine species that are vulnerable to over-exploitation.

Ancillary