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Relative importance of habitat and fishing in influencing reef fish communities across seventeen Pacific Island Countries and Territories


Silvia Pinca, Secretariat of the Pacific Community, B.P. D5, 98848 Noumea Cedex, New Caledonia.
Tel.: +687 26 2000
Fax: +687 26 3818


Reef fish assessments were undertaken in 17 Pacific islands to describe the status of finfish resources in 63 villages where fishing is mainly artisanal. Surveys were performed by recording the number and size of edible fish species and benthic composition. Fishing impact was described through six proxies representing level of catch, alternative incomes, degree of commercial catch and country economic development derived from a simultaneous socioeconomic assessment. The relative importance of broadly defined habitat (geographical location, island and reef type, substrate composition) and fishing impact in controlling the distribution of fish trophic groups, families and species was measured through multivariate analysis. The extreme faunistic diversity was shown by the large variation in fish density (difference of up to an order of magnitude) and fish biomass (displaying a 20-fold difference across the region). Herbivores were dominant in the eastern part of the region, at what we classified as complex islands and at islands with small lagoon and at coastal reefs, while carnivores were dominant at oceanic islands and atolls and at outer reefs. Specific habitat associations were shown for Scaridae, Acanthuridae, Siganidae, Balistidae, Lethrinidae, Lutjanidae and Serranidae. Relative importance and size decrease of several fish families (Mullidae, Scaridae, Lutjanidae and Serranidae) were related to high fishing impact. Acanthuridae and Lethrinidae appeared to have a role as opportunistic groups in impacted sites. The relative impact from fishing and habitat on fishes accounted for, respectively, 20 and 30% of variance, demonstrating the effect of human impacts even at such large scale and taking into account only limited fishing impact variables.