Red Sea fish market assessments indicate high species diversity and potential overexploitation
In many parts of the world, particularly remote and underdeveloped regions, reports of fisheries catch, effort, and landing data are limited. In order to implement effective fishing regulations to protect natural stocks, understanding fishing pressure, key target species, catch composition, and value of each species is vital. In regions where published data is limited, and the sampling of numerous small boats and landing sites is not feasible, fish market surveys represent an opportunity to obtain key fisheries data. This study therefore aims to obtain species-specific prices and market composition for fish landed in the central Red Sea by surveying local fish markets. We conducted 11 surveys at two major Red Sea fish markets to ascertain key fisheries metrics using market data as a proxy for catch data. Results indicate that a high proportion of the market composition is generated by 46 species from six family-level groups, Serranidae, Labridae, scarine labrids, Carangidae, Lethrinidae, and Lutjanidae, contributing to 87 % of the total market biomass. Species-specific values ranged from 4.50 USD/kg to 26.44 USD/kg, with market surveys highlighting the economic value of three local serranid species: Plectropomus pessuliferus marisrubri, Plectropomus areolatus and Variola louti, all valued at more than 25 USD/kg, and a labrid: Cheilinus undulatus, valued at 26.44 USD/kg. The Serranidae family represents 47 % of the total biomass and 55 % of the potential revenue in the market, while also indicating potentially overfished reefs due to the high occurrence of smaller species and undersized individuals of higher priced serranid species. Many of the high-valued serranids were below the size at sexual maturity. Target species exhibited small body size and decreasing abundance, potentially indicating a “shrinking baseline” scenario occurring in the Saudi Arabian artisanal coral reef fishery. These results indicate that introducing effective fisheries legislation and management is necessary for the longevity and sustainability of the reef-based fishery in the Saudi Arabian Red Sea. Implementing catch quotas, size limits, and seasonal restrictions are potential mechanisms that could be used to facilitate positive change within this vulnerable fishery.