The ecology of fish in the surf zones of ocean beaches: A global review
Fish and Fisheries
Place of Publication
Centre for Marine Ecosystems Research / School of Science
The surf zones of ocean beaches provide habitat for a diversity of fishes and are prime sites for recreational angling and commercial net fisheries. Here, we review the global literature (152 studies) on surf fish ecology to better inform fisheries management and coastal conservation planning. These studies suggest that surf zones support diverse fish assemblages, which are characterized by high numerical dominance (10 species typically comprise 95% of catches), but also show that few families are especially common. The composition of assemblages is highly variable, changing with fluctuations in water temperature, wave climate and the biomass of drifting algae or seagrass. Fish use surf zones as feeding habitats and transit routes, but these areas might not be widely used as spawning sites or juvenile nurseries. These systems are under escalating human pressures, most notably from coastal urbanization and recreational angling. Despite the recognized ecological and economic importance of surf-zone fishes, few studies have tested for impacts of urbanization or fishing. The benefits of marine reserves for fish in surf zones are also rarely measured. We suggest that progress will be made by moving from largely descriptive studies to hypothesis-driven research, which is guided by contemporary ecological theory and adapts modern techniques from research in other ecosystems. A key challenge is to obtain empirical data that are needed to improve the effectiveness of fisheries management and underpin conservation planning for coastal waters.