HONOLULU (KHON2) — A new study led by University of Hawai’i at Manoa looked at the life cycles of ocean fish and how they get from the ocean to the dinner table. 

This study provided key insight into conservation and management of the surrounding waters. 

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During their study, the university brought together experts in fields like oceanography, genetics, ecology, fisheries biology, and social sciences to investigate the natural and commercial flow of fish. 

Conceptual diagram of the Fish Flow interdisciplinary approach for tracking fish from spawning to supper. The four colored blocks show the conventional domains of different disciplines: blue (oceanography and population genetics), green (ecology), yellow (fisheries biology), and pink (social sciences). The arrow from stock dynamics to spawning indicates that the adult population is the source of reproduction. Courtesy: University of Hawai‘i

Mark Hixon, the lead author of the study, said Fish Flow analysis will promote sustainable fisheries management and marine conservation efforts. 

He said it might also help foster public knowledge and promote wise seafood choices along with appreciation of social-ecological interconnections involving fisheries. 

Courtesy: Conservation International

Hixon and other co-authors from the UH Manoa School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology and Conservation International developed the first Fish Flow map on Hawai’i Island. 

Their findings show that the northern and southern portions of the islands are intricately linked by larval dispersal and catch distribution, a discovery that showcases the importance of an inclusive approach to conservation and management of coral reefs in the region. 

Larval dispersal patterns of a species of surgeonfish among studied coral reefs (dark blue arrows connecting black circles compared with reef-fish catch distribution patterns among local communities (white arrows connecting white circles) from landings at Kīholo Bay, Hawaii. Together they suggest that people on the north side of the Island of Hawaii may depend on fish spawned off the southern end of the island, far from where the fish were captured and landed. Courtesy: University of Hawai‘i

SOEST oceanographers rely on computer models that consider biological and physical factors in higher resolution, allowing researchers to predict patterns of larval dispersal. 

When using advanced genomic techniques, tiny tissue samples from fish now reveal the spawning and settlement locations of adult fish and their offspring.

Courtesy: Conservation International

“The development of Fish Flow maps will better inform consumers and assist resource managers in linking fisheries and conservation policies with natural borders and pathways, including stock boundaries, networks of marine protected areas, and fisheries management areas,” said Hixon.

The Fish Flow maps will help to ensure that local community members to resource managers and policy makers understand how clearly connected and dependent humans are on seafood.

The researchers aim to secure funding for a full Fish Flow analysis of the ecologically and economically important fish species in Hawaiʻi. 

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That effort is envisioned to lead up to a web-based interactive “Fish Flow” maps depicting the many connections between marine ecosystems and human communities.