Exploring species dynamics within spiny lobster traps in the Florida Keys using a customizable, trap-deployable video camera system

Jack Butler1, Emily Hutchinson1, Cj Sweetman2 and Thomas R Matthews1, (1)Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Marathon, FL, United States, (2)Division of Marine Fisheries Management, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, Marathon, FL, United States
The habitats of the Florida Keys support some of Florida’s most lucrative and iconic commercial and recreational fisheries. However, since the late 1970s, the coral reef ecosystems of south Florida and the Florida Keys have degraded and are now considered one of the nation’s most stressed marine resources. Accompanying the decline in the region’s coral reefs, fish populations – including commercially and recreationally harvested species – have decreased in abundance and size structure over the past several decades. The degradation of Florida’s coral reef and declines in fish stocks underscore the need to examine, estimate, and work toward conserving and managing fisheries through reducing bycatch and its adverse impacts, specifically within the trap fishery for spiny lobsters in the Florida Keys. Estimating fish bycatch mortality in wire lobster traps is important to assess the current effect that these traps have on fishes, particularly on commercially-important snapper and grouper species, and to predict how changes to the management of the trap fishery might affect these stocks. However, accurately measuring mortality rates is difficult. Traps are commonly deployed for upwards of two weeks at a time, and carcasses of fish and lobster decay rapidly (as quickly as 24 hours for fish carcasses), which precludes observation of bycatch mortality via periodic sampling methods (e.g., diver surveys). Here we describe a novel trap-deployable remote camera system to more accurately observe mortality of fishes in wire lobster traps. The camera system provides a customizable framework to allow researchers to assess the effects of traps on target and non-target fishery species. Currently, these cameras have been employed to facilitate the development of a trap designed specifically to catch lionfish (Pterois volitans/miles) while simultaneously reducing the bycatch of other fishes and invertebrates. Analysis of these video datasets has provided insight into how lionfish and other fish species interact with traps, including entrance, escape, and mortality rates within traps.