Human-induced gradients of reef fish declines in the Hawaiian Archipelago viewed through the lens of traditional management boundaries

Alan M. Friedlander, Mary K. Donovan, Kostantinos A. Stamoulis, Ivor D. Williams, Eric K. Brown, Eric J. Conklin, Edward E. DeMartini, Kuulei S. Rodgers, Russell T. Sparks, William J. Walsh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Large declines in reef fish populations in Hawai‘i have raised concerns about the sustainability of these resources, and the ecosystem as a whole. To help elucidate the reasons behind these declines, a comprehensive examination of reef fish assemblages was conducted across the entire 2500 km Hawaiian Archipelago. Twenty-five datasets were compiled, representing >25 000 individual surveys conducted throughout Hawai‘i since 2000. To account for overall differences in survey methods, conversion factors were created to standardize among methods. Comparisons of major targeted resource species (N = 35) between the densely populated main (MHI) and remote north-western Hawaiian Islands (NWHI) revealed that 40% of these species had biomass in the MHI below 25% of NWHI levels. In total, 54% of the species examined had biomass <50% of NWHI biomass. The moku or district was a basic unit of resource management in pre-contact Hawai‘i and was used as a unit of spatial stratification for comparisons within the MHI. Biomass of resource species was negatively correlated with human population density within moku boundaries, with extremely low biomass in areas with highest human population densities. No such relationship was found for species not targeted by fishing. A number of remote areas with small human populations in the MHI still support high standing stock of fished species, and these areas are likely important refugia for maintaining fisheries production and biodiversity functioning. These results highlight the large gradient of human impacts on fish assemblages across the Hawaiian Archipelago and the potential in using landscape and seascape units, such as those that are watershed and bio-physically-based, when managing in part based on a framework of traditional ecological knowledge.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)146-157
Number of pages12
JournalAquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 1 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • archipelago
  • conservation evaluation
  • ecological status
  • fish
  • fisheries sustainability
  • overfishing
  • reef fish production
  • reef fish trophic structure

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation


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