Fish Tracker

Ariel Tobin, who works with the Fish and Wildlife Institute in The Keys, holds a greater amberjack.

For years, researchers have used tracking devices to monitor fish movements and growth in this area of study is exponential, researchers say.

But this growing database has not yet been effectively integrated into conservation decisions, understanding ecosystems or monitoring fish health, among other purposes. That’s a missed opportunity a recent study published in Trends in Ecology and Evolution says.

Scientists across the globe analyzed more than 1,800 research papers and found that while the data gathered is impactful, researchers must do more to make better use of the information.

With acoustic telemetry, scientists tag fish with tracking devices that emit signals. Researchers record and save the signals to follow fish movements over time. From inland lakes and rivers to the high seas, and from polar regions to the tropics, scientists use this technology to provide insight on ecological factors including migration patterns, spawning and mating behaviors and any passage impediments.

“Tracking data is exploding,” said Susan Lowerre-Barbieri, a scientist with the UF/IFAS and Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute, stated in a news feature release. “This paper looks at how acoustic telemetry has grown and its potential applications to management. We found there is a huge gap there. We have an opportunity to understand fish movement and behavior in a way we never have before.”

“Movement ecology is a burgeoning field in science, and we were interested in knowing how well research objectives meet the management needs of aquatic animals,” said Jordan Matley, assistant professor at St. Francis Xavier University in Chicago and lead author of the paper. “Ultimately, we wanted to identify where this type of research should be directed to facilitate greater understanding of the aquatic realm, globally.”

The project included researchers across the world to provide a global perspective and to highlight regional trends where more research may be needed. Prior to this study, no scholars had done a global review of acoustic tracking of fish.

“Typically, most papers focus on fresh or saltwater studies,” Dr. Lowerre-Barbieri said. “They are not looking at a bird’s-eye view to pull together freshwater and marine-level information and looking at different impacts to ensure these populations stay healthy.”

A deeper understanding of the data can help prevent further ecosystem and population crises. Better utilizing these data can improve our understanding of fish productivity and how to manage these populations for future success.

One example is a recent study in the Florida Keys, a highly connected ecosystem and home to the world’s third largest barrier reef. Before the study, researchers had limited data on the region, despite the fact that it’s a superhighway for migratory and resident species. Researchers analyzed four years of acoustic telemetry data, which included 2 million detections that followed the movements of 23 different species.

“There were two findings that were quite surprising,” Dr. Lowerre-Barbieri said. “One was the relatively large number of great white sharks detected in the study. Before we began monitoring the seamounts, this behavior was unknown. The other big surprise had to do greater amberjack at the seamounts.”

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