Researchers outline how marine reserves can benefit fisheries across the globe

marine reserve
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Society will require more food in the coming years to feed a growing population, and seafood will likely make up a significant portion of it. At the same time, we need to conserve natural habitats to ensure the health of our oceans. It seems like a conflict is inevitable.

“Marine protected areas are tools commonly used to conserve marine biodiversity by closing parts of the ocean to fishing,” said Reniel Cabral, an assistant researcher at UC Santa Barbara’s Environmental Market Solutions Lab. “This creates a potential dilemma when closures cause fishers to lose access to fishing grounds.”

A new study indicates that this need not be the case. The paper outlines where the benefits of fishing restrictions could enable a fishery to become more productive, even with the closures. The research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, lays the groundwork for expanding marine conservation alongside fishery catches.

The benefits of a well-considered marine protected area (MPA) can bolster the productivity of surrounding fisheries, especially when those fisheries are overexploited. The refuge enables populations to rebuild and then spill over into surrounding waters. Protecting an area from fishing also enables resident fish to grow older and larger, and scientists have found that these fish are proportionately more fertile than their smaller counterparts.

What’s more, fishing is not well regulated in many regions. The activity can be decentralized and target many different species using a variety of methods. Managing the industry can be nearly impossible, especially for agencies that are underfunded and underpowered. In this context, designating an MPA is relatively simple, especially compared to other management strategies.

“Past studies have shown that MPAs can improve catch when designed well and under the right fishery conditions,” said Cabral, the study’s lead author. “We asked how you could design a network of marine protected areas to improve fishery productivity, and what the results would be.”

Cabral and his colleagues at UC Santa Barbara, the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology, and the National Geographic Society began constructing a model of global fisheries that would account for both biologic and economic factors. They leveraged a database of 4,000 fishery stocks, their ecological characteristics, management status and global distributions in combination with a wealth of information on fisheries catch and fisher behavior in response to marine protected areas.

The resulting bio-economic model forecasts how fish populations would respond to the creation of new MPAs based on a variety of factors such as the location and status of fisheries and species mobility and growth rates. This enabled the team to project harvest outcomes over a variety of different reserve designs. The researchers could then see where MPAs would be most beneficial.

“We found that there are a lot of places where you can get food benefits,” said coauthor Steve Gaines, dean of UCSB’s Bren School of Environmental Science & Management. “So, rather than having this traditional battle between fisheries and conservation, we can now identify the strategic places

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Protecting 5% More Of The Ocean Can Increase Fisheries Yield By 20% According To New Research

A new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that protecting an additional 5% of the ocean can increase future fish catch by 20% or more. Growing up in a fishing community in the Philippines, lead researcher Dr. Reniel Cabral believes that marine protected areas (MPAs) can benefit both conservation and fisheries goals simultaneously. In the past, MPAs have been used as conservation tools, however a focus on fisheries may provide a necessary incentive for many coastal nations to adopt or expand them.

“We are curious if we design MPAs to increase fisheries productivity on a global scale, how much food can we generate, and how expensive will it be?” says Dr. Cabral, who hopes to see 30% of the world’s oceans protected by 2030; a widespread conservation goal. Currently only 2.5% of the ocean is fully protected, however Dr. Cabral anticipates that the research will provide a scientific basis for nations to view protected areas as investments into the future success of their fisheries.

The study entitled “A global network of marine protected areas for food” looked at MPA siting and area coverage using fisheries data for over 1,300 commercially-important fish species to determine how much fish biomass could be available for the fishing industry if more of the ocean was protected. Building on years of previous research, the research team modeled protection networks to predict fisheries success. They found, unsurprisingly, that expansion of MPAs will have the greatest impact in areas where overfishing is occurring, which is often in the developing world where fisheries management resources are less robust.

As the protected area increases, so does fisheries success, however according to the models once 47% of the ocean is protected, expanding marine protected areas further will not improve fisheries and will in fact hinder total catch. “While you can close up to 47% of the ocean, most of the benefits [to fisheries catch] you can achieve by protecting a smaller percent of the ocean,” says Dr. Cabral. The majority of the impact occurs when 5-10% more of the ocean is protected, according to the research.

When MPAs are strategically implemented in areas where overfishing or poor management are occurring, the models show that fish populations will be able to recover and leave the protected areas to re-stock unprotected areas. This phenomenon is known as spillover effect. The fish in MPAs are able to grow bigger and produce a higher number of more hearty offspring. The study found that protecting 5% more of the ocean would result in nine to twelve million more metric tons of fish catch annually. The modeling was carried out by examining areas of

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How Old Family Fishing Photos Unlock the History of Atlantic Fisheries

Citizen Science Salon is a partnership between Discover and

Rusty Hudson grew up on the salt-laden docks of Daytona Beach, Florida. As a third-generation fisherman, he naturally took to the industry. When he was just 9 years old, Hudson started his first job as a bait boy aboard the Mako, a charter boat owned by his grandfather, Captain Jake Stone. 

By the late 1960s, he was working regularly on his family’s fishing boats. While guests prepared to shuffle aboard the boat to pursue a myriad of fish species, including snappers, groupers, jacks, mackerels, and dolphinfish (mahi-mahi), Hudson busied himself with bait prep. On days that the Mako hosted a small party of fishermen, the boy would get to pick up a rod and join them. And after customers returned to the dock from a day of fishing with Hudson, his grandfather and the crew, they would pose with the captain and their catch to commemorate the day. Each photo created a record of the catch, the people, and the experience, a memento for the family photo album. 

Years later, these historic photos are providing more than just memories of a fun day fishing on the water. Hudson realized how valuable his family’s photos could be in re-creating the catch from the 1940s to 1970s — a time before scientific monitoring programs collected data on recreational and for-hire fisheries. “I felt the for-hire pictures of the past could illustrate the range of fishing conditions and catches to fishery scientists and managers,” Hudson says. Knowing more about the fisheries of the past could help all of us better understand the health of fish populations today.

Take Part: Join FISHstory and Help Scientists Sleuth Old Fishing Photos

fish story fishstory

Thanks to citizen scientists, researchers are learning about how fisheries have changed in the past half century by studying an archive of family photos taken after sport fishing trips. (Credit: Rusty Hudson/Hudson, Stone, and Timmons Families)

FISHstory’s Beginnings 

The idea for the FISHstory project was hatched over a decade ago when Hudson participated in a stock assessment for red snapper in the South Atlantic. As his family’s informal historian, he had amassed an archive of hundreds of historic photos from his family’s fishing fleet. When he showed the photos to scientists, it kickstarted discussions about the insights these photos might unlock. The value of these photos was evident to all, as they represented one of the only data sources available to document recreational and for-hire catches from this historic time period. However, analyzing hundreds of photos can be labor intensive — so there were challenges in getting a project off the ground. 

Enter the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council’s (SAFMC) Citizen Science Program. Headquartered in Charleston, South Carolina, the SAFMC is responsible for the conservation and management of fisheries in federal waters from North Carolina through the Florida Keys. The SAFMC’s Citizen Science Program was developed over the course of three years with guidance from a wide array of stakeholders and partners. The

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Treaty education lacks amid N.S. fisheries dispute, Mi’gmawei Mawiomi Secretariat says

People from across the country are watching the situation unfold in southwest Nova Scotia as the fishery dispute continues.

a group of people looking at each other: Members of the Sipekne'katik First Nation, supported by other First Nations, stand on the breakwater in Saulnierville, N.S., as non-Indigenous boats protest the launch the Mi'kmaq self-regulated fishery on Sept. 17, 2020.

Members of the Sipekne’katik First Nation, supported by other First Nations, stand on the breakwater in Saulnierville, N.S., as non-Indigenous boats protest the launch the Mi’kmaq self-regulated fishery on Sept. 17, 2020.

Mi’gmawei Mawiomi Secretariat, an organization representing Gesgapegiag, Gespeg and Listuguj in Quebec, is watching closely and supporting the Sipekne’katik First Nation.


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“A lot of the issue really is that non-Indigenous Canadians just don’t know the real history of the treaties,” executive director Tanya Barnaby-Williams says. “We’re all treaty people, non-Indigenous people are treaty people as well. … It’s just that they’ve been enjoying the benefits of the treaties a lot longer than the Mi’kmaq have.”

The group says education about treaty rights needs to be at the forefront to further the conversation, especially the Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1752.

“We need to be treated the way that we are mentioned in the treaties… We are the original inhabitants of the territory, and as such, we have different rights,” Barnaby-Wiliams says. “That is one thing that sometimes gets misconstrued is that we somehow want to be like everybody else.”

Commercial fishers near Nova Scotia’s southwest coast say they’re concerned about conservation. But for some of those involved, tension has boiled over and violence has erupted. However, all sides are calling for more action from the federal government.

Sipekne’katik Chief Michael Sack was set to meet with Joel Comeau, the former president of Maritime Fisherman’s Union Local 9, on Friday but it was called off as a result of reports that non-Indigenous commercial fishers were mobilizing.

Comeau, who had previously expressed a desire to have a dialogue between non-Indigenous commercial fishers and the Sipekne’katik First Nation, only recently resigned as president.

He told Global News on Friday that his family had been threatened by non-Indigenous commercial fishers and it had left his daughter afraid to be home alone.

He said he is worried about his small, predominantly francophone community because it is depressed and “emotionally shattered” by the ongoing tensions with the Indigenous fishing in St. Marys Bay.

The 45-year-old fisher said the federal Fisheries Department has failed to include all parties in talks, and frustrations have boiled over.

Read more: Blair defends RCMP’s handling of acts of violence in Nova Scotia despite criticism

And Barnaby-Williams calls the situation “sad… it’s scary.”

She’s calling on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to come to Nova Scotia to “see what’s going on, see the real picture of what the Mi’kmaq are doing to protect and exercise their right to fish.”

“He needs to see what his citizens are doing as a result of that,” she says.

Federal Indigenous Services Minister Marc Miller says conversations and negotiations behind closed doors may appear like there’s not been progress made, but he’s hoping that process will help de escalate the situation.

“We find ourselves in a historic situation where

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