Towards Sustainable Fisheries For Spawning Aggregations in the Gulf of California



In 2009, we began an initiative to improve the scientific understanding of fish spawning aggregations in the Gulf of California through a series of research projects on species of commercial importance such as Leopard Grouper, Yellow Snapper, and Gulf Corvina. Our interest in doing so was sparked by a symposium and workshop we organized in La Paz in 2008, in which we invited experts from around the world to discuss the status of scientific knowledge on spawning aggregations and their fisheries in the region. After holding that workshop and meeting with various government agencies, scientists, and NGOs from Mexico, we quickly realized that hardly anything was known about spawning aggregations in the Gulf and only a few species were managed with any consideration at all for a need to protect these critical habitats.

After five years of research, we have made considerable progress in terms of our understanding of which species of fish form aggregations in the Gulf, and for a number of species we’ve been able to acquire detailed information on when these aggregations occur and how they interact with commercial fisheries. Consequently, we are beginning to get a better grasp as to the vulnerability of spawning aggregations to fishing activities and what types of management strategies may be necessary to achieve the necessary balance of productive fisheries that sustain the livelihoods of coastal communities with robust fish populations that are necessary to maintain healthy coastal ecosystems.

Examples of our research on spawning aggregations:

Spawning sounds of Gulf corvina from the Colorado River Delta

Dinámica Espacial y Temporal de una Agregación Reproductiva de Peces y su Pesquería

The progress we’ve made is a product of the strong partnerships we’ve established with a wide variety of people, agencies, and institutions that span the entire diversity of sectors: government, NGO, academic, fishing industries, and communities. Without such support and collaborations, our success in elevating the amount and quality of information on spawning aggregations would not have been possible.

Josue-curso monitoreo2 2013(Wm)


For the next few years, however, we hope to shift our focus a bit from the production of information to the synthesis and dissemination of information on spawning aggregations to all the sectors we mention above and to the broader regional and global community. After all, what good is information if people aren’t aware of it, can’t access it, or don’t understand it?

Here is one example of things we hope to start sharing, which is simply the amazing spectacle that is a fish spawning aggregation. Check out this short film called “Snapper Spawn” that Alfredo Barroso and Paul Collins, two world-renowned videographers,  created from our recent trip to Palau .

This video was created through a partnership between the Gulf Program and Science and Conservation of Fish Aggregations (SCRFA), an international conservation NGO that promotes the responsible stewardship of fish spawning aggregations. This project was also supported by the government of Palau, the Coral Reef Research Foundation (CRRF), and photographer Richard Barnden. I hope you enjoy it!

This video is just a small taste of the products we hope to create that collectively seek to elevate the broader understanding of spawning aggregations and the need to manage them wisely.  This year, we will be collaborating with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) on several media-related products about the spawning aggregations of Cabo Pulmo and how they provide social, economic, and ecological benefits to the surrounding areas.  Next year, we hope to complete a longer film on the biology and management of spawning aggregations, which will constitute the next installment of the Natural Numbers series.

So stay tuned, as we hope to share some more exciting footage of spawning aggregations from around the Gulf of California!  Oh, and if you haven’t seen a spawning aggregation in the Gulf looks like, check out this highlight reel from Alfredo or this amazing footage of jacks by Octavio Aburto and David Castro.




Brad Erisman

Brad Erisman. Research Scientist, Scripps Institution of Oceanography (UCSD). Dr. Erisman has been studying the biology and fisheries of reef fishes from southern and Baja California for over 13 years. He leads several projects related to the conservation and management of fish spawning aggregations in the Gulf of California, is a member of the Species Survival Commission for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and is a board member of the Society for the Conservation of Reef Fish Aggregations (SCRFA).


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