MPA meeting ecological goals, study finds

Parimal M. Rohit

A group of scientists from UC Santa Barbara’s Partnership for Interdisciplinary Studies of Coastal Oceans (PISCO) found Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) off the Southern California coast are fulfilling their role in sheltering fish species.

Three PISCO scientists collected and analyzed 10 years worth of data from the Channel Islands network to determine MPAs are meeting expectations. Channel Islands are located off the Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Ventura coasts; the network of islands is one of the largest MPAs in Southern California.

The Channel Islands MPA network marked its 10-year anniversary in 2013.

“The Channel Islands MPAs appear to be fulfilling their role as refuges for many fish and invertebrate species,” Jennifer Caselle, a research biologist at UCSB’s Marine Science Institute (MSI) and lead author of the study’s report, said. “A snapshot view in 2008 indicated that the MPAs were enhancing ecological communities, but we didn’t have enough data to assess the long-term changes. Now, for the first time, we can compare long-term trends in the protected areas with areas open to fishing.”

Caselle said the Channel Islands MPA resulted in a biomass increase.

“We expected to find an increase in biomass inside the MPAs for fish species that are the targets of fishing, and that did occur across the MPA network,” Caselle said. “Perhaps more important, we also found increases in fished species outside in the unprotected areas. That means that one of the most common fears of fishermen was not realized — and that’s huge.”

Interestingly enough, the biomass increase outside of the MPA system, according to the study, could be the result of “reduced fishing pressure, spillover from MPAs, favorable environmental conditions or a combination of all three.”

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