The critically endangered Nassau grouper aggregates en masse numbers to spawn at specific
times of year in the Caribbean. Photo credit: Alfredo Barroso

By Stuart Fulton.

This Plain Language Summary is published ahead of the article discussed; please check back for a link to the full paper.

Many commercial fish species spawn en masse at specific sites and times of year. For species like the critically endangered Nassau grouper, once an important fishery species across the Caribbean, the numbers of fish aggregating each year has been declining for decades. At one site in Belize for example, a 1944 description states “The groupers congregate here in almost countless numbers
in late December or early January; it is reported that they are so closely packed as to hide the white sand bottom” and in the 1960´s over 90 tonnes of grouper were being caught annually. By the late 90´s however, the aggregation had all but ceased to form due to continued fishing pressure.

Despite decades of action by managers, researchers, and conservation organizations across the Caribbean, conservation successes are hard to come by and stocks of these ecologically important fish continue to decline. However, when asked about the status of the stocks in interviews, managers in the Mesoamerican Reef often replied that they did not know.

This research perspective brings concepts from management and business science about how institutions create, manage, and lose, knowledge, to marine conservation, using fish spawning aggregations in the Mesoamerican Reef as an example. Institutional amnesia refers to the tendency of organizations to forget or ignore past events or information that may be relevant or inconvenient to their current goals or beliefs. This can occur at both the individual and collective level and can result in a lack of historical awareness or a failure to learn from past mistakes. Organizations with institutional amnesia are likely to keep trying to periodically replicate solutions that have not worked in the past, unsuccessfully implement solutions others have successfully applied but in different contexts, and fail to value the knowledge of long-term staff. To improve our knowledge management important steps must be taken, including reducing staff turnover, strengthening local institutions, improving recordkeeping procedures and creating organizational narratives to ensure more effective knowledge transmission within our institutions.