Understanding the decision-making process of fish when they escape from approaching spearfishers has a crucial role in elucidating management conflicts. By considering that fish can respond to humans as if they were predators, their wariness or risk-tolerance can be assessed from the Flight Initiation Distance (FID) between the fish and the fisherman.
This study used the FID metric to assess how the management strategies, including fishing and tourism, could distinctively influence the escape behavior of the target reef fish. The work was undertaken in a multiple-use Marine Protected Area (MPA) in the Brazilian NE coast.
The authors state that the findings of the study demonstrate that the protection level has a consistent effect on wariness of the target species, but underline that the use of tourism sites as a conservation strategy could be controversial. They claim that if conducted responsibly, the tourism in reef ecosystems can provide economic benefits to local communities while contributing to conservation efforts. However, according to the results, it is stated that tourism and fisheries activities might be more similarly related to disrupting fish behavior that was thought before.
The study shows that, taken together with other data (e.g. biomass, abundance), changes in the fish behavior such as escape decisions, may add important knowledge to the monitoring of MPAs. The authors conclude that the use of FID measurements as a management tool could improve the monitoring policies in MPAs and reveal reef systems where human activities should be reduced or banned.
Benevides LJ, Pinto TK, Nunes JACC, Sampaio CLS (2018) Fish escape behavior as a monitoring tool in the largest Brazilian multiple-use Marine Protected Area. Ocean & Coastal Management 152:154-162