Limited effectiveness of divers to mitigate 'barrens' formation by culling sea urchins while fishing for abalone

J. C. Sanderson, S. D. Ling, J. G. Dominguez, C. R. Johnson*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Citations (Scopus)


Climate-driven incursion of the long-spined sea urchin (Centrostephanus rodgersii) in eastern Tasmania has prompted calls for strong management intervention given the urchins' capacity to overgraze kelp beds and cause local collapse of valuable reef fisheries. We examined the effectiveness of commercial divers culling C. rodgersii while undertaking otherwise normal fishing for black-lip abalone (Haliotis rubra). Diver effort appears to be driven by fishing yield and not the opportunity to maximise numbers of urchins culled; the greatest culls occurred on shorter dives when abalone fishing was poor. Despite culling thousands of urchins, divers culled urchins only from within a small proportion of the total barrens patches on particular reefs. Thus, urchin density, size-frequency of barrens patches, and benthic community structure showed no detectable change relative to 'no-cull' control reefs. Nonetheless, divers were effective in culling urchins in the few patches they targeted, and these patches were quickly recolonised by canopy-forming kelps. Ongoing urchin culling by abalone divers will increase resilience of the kelp habitats on which the valuable abalone fishery depends, but only at highly localised spatial scales (10m). The effectiveness of this control strategy is dependent on sustainable local harvest of abalone warranting recurrent diver visitation to affected sites. However, abalone divers culling urchins while fishing are unlikely to control urchin densities at scales ≥102 m.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)84-95
Number of pages12
JournalMarine and Freshwater Research
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • control
  • fisheries
  • kelp beds
  • overgrazing
  • phase shift
  • range-extension


Dive into the research topics of 'Limited effectiveness of divers to mitigate 'barrens' formation by culling sea urchins while fishing for abalone'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this