Decadal Changes in the Abundance and Length of Snapper (Chrysophrys auratus) in Subtropical Marine Sanctuaries

Abundance and length of the highly-targeted snapper Chysophrys auratus were compared between sites in 'no take' areas (Sanctuary Zones: SZ), partial protected areas which are fished (Habitat Protection Zones: HPZ), and areas outside (Outside) the Solitary Islands Marine Park (SIMP), Australia. Baited Remote Underwater Video (BRUV) sampling on shallow rocky reef (15 - 25 m) was conducted annually from 2002 until 2014 in the Austral-winter, covering the decade after these marine park zones were established (2002). Additional deeper sites (25 - 40 m) were sampled in 2010-2011 to assess if findings were more-broadly applicable. Lengths were measured using stereo-BRUVs from 2011-2014. Snapper were significantly more abundant in SZ overall and in most years compared with the other two management types, which did not significantly differ. Snapper rapidly increased after 2 - 3 years protection in all management types, especially SZ. Snapper were present on more SZ deployments than HPZ and Outside after the same period. The positive SZ response in snapper abundance on shallower reef was also found at a broader spatial scale on deeper sites. Again the two fished management types did not show significant differences among each other. There was considerable variation in snapper abundance between years, with strong peaks in 2005, 2009 and 2014 especially in SZ. Abundances remained higher in SZ in the year or two following a strong peak, but decreased to similar abundances to fished areas before the next peak. Snapper length frequency distribution significantly differed between SZ and both fished management types, with more larger snapper within SZ including a higher proportion (58%) that were legal-sized (>25.7 cm FL). HPZ and Outside did not significantly differ from each other, and were dominated by individuals below legal size. Overall, SZ's have positively influenced abundance and length of snapper on these subtropical rocky reefs.