Fish Love Calls

When Gulf corvina, a commercially valuable fish in the Gulf of California, gather to spawn, they make sounds louder than an underwater rock concert, enough to damage your eardrums were it on land. Because corvina also are at risk of being overfished, marine scientists from the University of Texas Marine Science Institute (UTMSI) are part of a team trying to use these deafening mating calls to help protect the fish. 

Credit: Octavio Aburto-Oropeza

Credit: Octavio Aburto-Oropeza

The researchers developed an inexpensive yet accurate method for estimating how many corvina are in a spawning aggregation based on their mating calls. Accurate data on when and where fish spawn, as well as how many there are, would help fisheries managers design effective management practices, such as setting sustainable harvest levels. Monitoring wild fish populations isn’t easy, but anecdotal evidence and a trend toward smaller fish getting caught suggest overfishing poses a serious threat. 

“It can be extremely challenging to get a complete picture of fish spawning events because they can happen over very short to very long times and are often in difficult environments such as murky water,” said Brad Erisman, assistant professor at UTMSI. “Our work opens an acoustic window into these exciting spawning events.”

With calibrations, the method Erisman developed can be applied to other threatened fish around the world. 

“The idea is we try to bring all the stakeholders, different groups that have a vested interest in the fishery and the environment, together to try to work it out,” says Erisman. “It’s nice that science is playing a role in that.”

Tune in to our Point of Discovery podcast to hear Erisman describe the story behind this project.