This study represents the first attempt to assess the potential for fisheries in the artisanal Red Sea reef fisheries of Eritrea in an ecosystem context. We used an Ecopath with Ecosim model to integrate known aspects of the ecosystem and its inhabitants into a single framework, with the aim to gain a better insight into the structure and functioning of the ecosystem and to assess the impacts of fishing in these data-limited fisheries. Model outputs indicate that most of the primary productivity in the system is recycled through a detritus-based food web, implying a bottom-up energy flow control. Ecotrophic efficiencies were nevertheless higher at higher trophic levels, suggesting that top-down control mechanisms are also ecologically important. Notwithstanding a high degree of primary productivity, the fishery yields estimated for the coral reef ecosystem were relatively low, apparently because of lower ecotrophic efficiencies at the lower trophic levels. A retrospective simulation of trends in these fisheries using Ecosim showed that, given the existing fishing intensity as suggested by official statistics (0.114 tonnes km¿2 year¿1), fishery-induced decline in abundance and yield of reef-associated demersals of the magnitude (ca. 25%) suggested by a previous study are unlikely. However, the decline in yield observed in these fisheries could be reproduced in the simulation when the existing fishing level was assumed to be five-fold the official estimate, as suggested by anecdotal evidence on unreported catches. The simulation results show that an optimal fishing strategy could be achieved through a slight reduction in the annual catch of reef-associated fish (to 0.32 tonnes km¿2 year¿1) and an increase in the capture of near-reef pelagics and large pelagics (to 0.19 and 0.39 tonnes km¿2 year¿1, respectively) from the putative levels. We explored optimal fishing scenarios in view of both direct effects of fishing on target species and indirect effects of fishing on non-target organisms. Finally, this study demonstrates that, even if modeling is no substitute for rigorous assessment of individual fish stocks with more detailed data, it could improve our understanding of the impacts of fishing on the structure and functioning of coral reef ecosystems in such newly developing fisheries, particularly on groups that would otherwise be difficult to monitor.
- coral-reef ecosystems