This deskstudy gives a review of small pelagic fish species and fisheries in the Dutch Caribbean, specifically species which distributions exceed the national boundaries and where international cooperation in research and management is required. The need for this study was recently identified as a high priority action in the 2010 EEZ management plan written for the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs. A list of schooling pelagic species with maximum sizes of 40 cm was prepared, based on the occurrence in waters deeper than 200m, in the Dutch Caribbean and Wider Caribbean Area. As a next step the (importance for) the fisheries and biology is described with a focus on the following four species (groups): Sardines (Sardinella aurita), Scads (Carangidae), Anchovy (Engraulidae) and Flyingfishes, in particular Hirundichthys speculiger and Cheilopogon cyanopterus. A fifth group, consisting of clupeids (Clupidae) and halfbeaks (Hemiramphidae) are not truly pelagic because of their association with reefs and coastal distribution, but are locally abundant and important as bait fish.
From a management perspective, small pelagic fish in the Caribbean can be divided into three groups: (1) Species with pelagic behaviour, but coastally bound. 10-20 species, wide spread in the region, locally abundant and targeted as bait fish. This group consists of Carangidae, Clupeidae, Engraulidae and Hemiramphidae. These can be monitored in local sea going surveys because the species are more or less coastal (<less than 20 km). However, catches of small pelagic species are not monitored or surveyed, hence it is often not clear what species are involved. An appropriate survey method to monitor abundance of schooling pelagic fish is echo integration. (2) True pelagic (oceanic) species: all flying fishes, wide spread in the region. Heavily targeted as bait fish, locally for human consumption (Barbados). They are clearly crossing boundaries of EEZ’s in the region. The species involved are wide spread and due to their behaviour difficult to monitor by means of a fisheries independent, sea going survey. (3) Sardinella aurita, off shore distribution, limited to an area of upwelling off the coast of Venezuela. The monitoring of the stock is a Venezuelan appointment, although at the margins, some EEC boundaries are crossed (Columbian, Dutch).
Given the importance for the ecosystem from a Dutch perspective the main focus for further research in the Dutch EEZ, should be given to coastal pelagic species in the pelagic area’s adjacent to coastal reef zones around the archipelagos. This implies no international coordination for this group in the executional phase of the survey. The second group – flyingfishes - requires more international cooperation. This group should be surveyed within ecosystem focussed surveys, running multiple methodologies like visual observations of birds and mammals, biological sampling of fish and hydrographical observations.
The potential for a small pelagic fishery in the Dutch EEZ is discussed. Direct consumption of small pelagic fish, rather than using it in the reduction sector, is more efficient from a biological and an economical point of view. For the Dutch EEZ, as a first step a (bio-)economic study into the potential of the development of a sustainable fishery for small pelagic fish in the Dutch EEZ could be initiated. The flyingfish fishery in Barbados could be used as an example or a reference. Depending on the presence of local pelagic resources, such a study should not merely focus on flying fish but should include all small pelagic fish. The Barbados flying fish fishery could also be used as an example for a local experimental fisheries project.
Finally it is recommended to start collecting data in the pelagic area’s adjacent to coastal reef zones by yearly fisheries independent sea going surveys. The best survey technique for small pelagic fish is fisheries acoustics. However, a holistic approach, incorporating observations of multiple trophic levels, using different strategies within a single survey would be highly preferable. This means that such a survey should be combined with systematic visual observations of seabirds and cetaceans as well as the collection of zooplankton and environmental data.