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Juvenile snapper habitat.

Determining where juvenile deep-water snappers reside off Hawaii may not be one of life's great mysteries. But it is a question that has stumped scientists for years, according to George W. Boehlert, Director of the Honolulu Laboratory of the NMFS Southwest Fisheries Center.

The habitat of juvenile deepwater snappers was recently documented by Jeffrey J. Polovina, a fishery scientist with the Honolulu Laboratory. In October 1988, scientists caught three species of juvenile deepwater snappers--lehi, uku, and opakapaka--by hook and line outside Kaneohe Bay, Oahu, in the Hawaiian Islands. This study site was selected based on information obtained from a recreational fisherman who reported catching juvenile snappers occasionally while fishing there for wrasse. "Knowing the habitat type where juvenile snappers can be found fills a major gap in the life history of the deepwater snappers," said Polovina.

The habitat of juvenile deepwater snappers is hard, flat coral covered by a thin veneer of sand and is in relatively shallow (40-70 m) water. Conversely, adult snappers prefer steep, rocky sites in deeper water (about 200 m) and with lots of vertical relief.

Ironically, a few years ago, this same juvenile habitat site was one of the sites considered by Honolulu Laboratory scientists for placing an artificial reef to provide habitat for adult deepwater snappers. Initial fishing and visual censuses had suggested this flat, sandy habitat was devoid of fish larvae. However, using a different sampling method (hook and line) resulted in finding an abundance of juvenile snappers.

"This is an interesting ecological lesson," said Polovina. "When you sample an area and don't catch fish, don't immediately assume that there are no fish. Nature has a way of taking care of things . . . something will move into that niche."

"An artificial reef could have provided additional habitat for taape, a predator of juvenile snappers, thereby increasing the predators while decreasing habitat for juvenile deepwater snappers," said Polovina.

Documenting the juvenile habitat of these valuable commercial snappers is an important step in completing our knowledge of their life history. Now that scientists know the type of habitat juvenile snappers prefer, they can begin to determine when and where the juvenile deepwater snappers are located, thereby gaining insight into the recruitment patterns to the fishery. Such information ultimately will be extremely useful in managing the snapper fishery. The deepwater snapper fishery is one of Hawaii's most valuable fisheries, said Polovina. Commercial fishermen in 1987 landed 1.8 million pounds of deepwater snappers valued at $5.3 million.
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Publication:Marine Fisheries Review
Date:Jan 1, 1989
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