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Incentivizing Fishermen And Designing Protected Areas For Fishery Benefits To Achieve Global Marine Biodiversity Protection Goals


Fishermen are more likely to support marine protected areas (MPAs) that are designed to promote fishery benefits, integrated with other fishery management measures, and monitored to demonstrate fishery results. By linking investments in MPAs and fisheries, fishermen are incentivized to support and push for marine protection. Three examples from California demonstrate the benefits of empowering fishermen in design and adaptive management of MPAs.

  1. A statewide network of 124 MPAs, with the goal of ecosystem protection, was implemented through a science-based stakeholder process that relied on fishermen’s knowledge and scientific information on fishery species likely to benefit. While monitoring has shown some fishery populations responding, the integration of MPAs with other non-spatial fishery management measures has proven challenging.
  2. In offshore waters, large trawl closure areas were designed with fishermen to protect sensitive habitat, implemented through government regulation, and paired with the private purchase of trawl permits and vessels to reduce fishing effort. Minimizing the economic impact of the closures through private investment fostered broader support.
  3. A large temporary area closure to support rebuilding of overfished rockfish species in a “catch shares” fishery has largely achieved those goals. Now quota holding fishermen are incentivized and are implementing voluntary closures.
Problem, challenge or context: 

California (USA) has a broad array of fisheries that are productive and relatively well-managed in the global context. Yet many species have been overfished (e.g. abalone and some rockfish) and many stocks are considered “data limited,” as their status not well understood. The size and catch of many species was declining, impacting both commercial and recreational fisheries. Between 2004-2012, through a legislative act, California engaged in the design and implementation of a statewide network of MPAs that protect 16% of state waters. While fighting this, fishermen also participated to push for fishery benefits and to minimize economic impacts. In 2006, a federal action to protect fish habitat, and to reduce bottom trawling impacts through trawl closures, was controversial. It was facilitated by a private buyout of permits that reduced economic impacts to the groundfish fishery and secured fishermen’s support. In 2002, federal agencies implemented a large temporary closure, the Rockfish Conservation Area, to rebuild overfished rockfish populations. It had large economic impacts and displaced effort by local fleets. As rockfish recover and the fishery has transitioned to a “catch shares” system, fishermen are incentivized to avoid depleted stocks and are now voluntarily implementing closures to protect those stocks.

Key lessons learned: 

Fishing and conservation interests both benefit from a healthy and diverse ocean ecosystem. However, fishermen make their livelihood by targeting fishery species, not through “biodiversity”. Fishing interests often oppose MPAs, since fishermen are typically the stakeholders most negatively impacted. Despite the global push for MPAs, it will be hard to achieve marine biodiversity protection goals without support from fishermen. While the fishery benefits of MPAs (e.g. rebuilt stocks, spillover, increased catch) are often promised, MPAs are frequently designed inappropriately to provide those fishery benefits (e.g. too small, not in the right location). Additionaly, benefits may take many years to accrue, and other non-spatial fishery management measures may be needed. MPAs are often not monitored and adaptively managed to demonstrate fishery benefits. In California, fishermen have generally opposed MPAs. Yet, through various incentives, fishermen have brought their local knowledge together, with the best available science on life history and movement patterns of fishery species, to support the design and implementation of MPAs. While much of California’s waters are now protected, MPAs are not yet well integrated with the other non-spatial, fishery management measures that are already be in place, or may be needed, to successfully manage fisheries and support fishing communities.

Impacts and outcomes: 

See: Gleason, M.G., S. McCreary, M. Miller-Henson, J. Ugoretz, E. Fox, M. Merrifield, W. McClintock, P. Serpa, K. Hoffmann. 2010. Science-based and stakeholder-driven marine protected area network planning: a successful case study from north-central California. Ocean and Coastal Management 53:52-68.
Kirlin, J., Caldwell, M., Gleason, M., Weber, M., Ugoretz, J., Fox, E., Miller-Henson, M., 2013. California’s Marine Life Protection Act Initiative: Supporting implementation of legislation establishing a statewide network of marine protected areas. Ocean and Coastal Management 74: 
Gleason, M., Fox, E., Ashcraft, S., Vasques, J., Whiteman, E., Serpa, P., Saarman, E., Caldwell, M., Frimodig, A., Miller-Henson, M., Kirlin, J., Ota, B., Pope, E., Weber, M., Wiseman, K., 2013. Designing a network of marine protected areas in California: achievements, costs, lessons learned, and challenges ahead. Ocean and Coastal Management 74:90-101. 
Gleason, M.G., E.M. Feller, M. Merrifield, S. Copps, R. Fujita, M. Bell, S. Rienecke, and C. Cook. 2013. A Transactional and Collaborative Approach to Reducing Effects of Bottom Trawling. Conservation Biology 27:470-479.

Contact details: 
Mary Gleason -- Lead Scientist, The Nature Conservancy, mgleason AT
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