Update on the 2016-2017 catch trends in the Saba Bank fisheries

The recent status and trends in the Saba Bank fisheries up to and including 2015 port sampling data have been previously reported by de Graaf et al. (2017) and a policy brief has also been written based on those results (Debrot and de Graaf (2018). The purpose of this report is to update recent catch trends in the Saba Bank fisheries with the data from 2016 and 2017.

For the lobster fishery (Panulirus argus), the number of fishing trips (and number of traps set) gradually grew from 2012 to 2015 but has since leveled off. The resulting landings of lobster have shown a similar pattern of increase up to 2015 but have now leveled off at around 70 tons annually. Increasing landings per unit effort indicate that the formerly reduced lobster abundance, which had been declining since 2000 and which had reached its lowest level in 2011, has subsequently increased relatively steadily all through 2017, and now has increased back to levels close to those of 2007. The average size of lobsters taken, continues to be large, which is favourable to gradual stock recovery.

Mixed landings of reef fish in the lobster fishery have fluctuated between 10 and 20 tons annually. The LPUE abundance index in bycatch species also shows a decrease of about 35% from high levels in 2000 and 2007 to lowest levels in 2011, followed by an increase up to 2013, after which landings have levelled off.

In the redfish trap fishery (Lutjanus spp.), the number of trips in the redfish trap fisheries had grown significantly during the period 2012 to 2015. In 2016 effort increased again to 625 trips. In 2017 the exerted fishing effort dropped down to about 350 trips, a level seen last in 2012. The landings of redfish have fluctuated over this period, with lower values in 2012 and 2017 and higher values in 2014 and 2016. The LPUE abundance index shows a decrease by 50% between 2007 and 2011, followed by an increase to slightly higher and constant values between 2012 and 2016, while in 2017 the LPUE abundance index continued increasing. The only snapper for which sufficient data was available, was the silk snapper, Lutjanus vivanus. Average size of the silk snappers landed continued its increasing trend, indicative of gradual stock recovery. The drop in snapper landings, despite the higher LPUE in 2017, can especially be ascribed to the 6-month closed season implemented that year (Graaf et al. 2017).

The overall conclusion is that for both the lobster and redfish stocks, stock status, based on the LPUE index and size-structure trends have continued in developing favorably. Bottom drop longline, pelagic and bycatch landings have remained much less important and have shown no significant new developments.

There are two matters of concern that require follow up. Firstly, the positive prognosis for the snapper “stock” status may partly be based on targeting geographically different stocks as well as different species. Hence the data as collected and analyzed may actually be presenting a too optimistic assessment. To evaluate whether this is actually the case will require more detailed analysis based on individual species, as well as more accurate geographical recording of catches than as currently practiced. The second matter of concern regards the fate of the traps that were in the water on the Bank when the hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the area in September 2017. If trap loss was large, this may lead to higher detrimental impacts of ghost fishing in the coming years.

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