Study: Marine reserves could maintain sustainability and solve bycatch

Commercial fisheries might be able to benefit from protected areas, researchers claim.

STATEWIDE — Marine reserves off the California coast could actually benefit fisheries and commercial fishers, according to a study published Aug. 9 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, or PNAS.

Marina Reserves
Claire Fackler, NOAA National Marine Sanctuaries

Researchers at the University of California, Davis concluded marine reserves where fishing is not allowed would help commercial fishers avoid unintentionally catching one species of fish while pursuing another – all while helping fisheries in general sustain themselves.

The study identified bycatch as “one of the most ubiquitous and crippling challenges in global fisheries.”

“The usual solution is to dramatically reduce take of the target species to allow ‘weak stock’ persistence,” researchers said. “Using a general strategic model, we show that establishing areas closed to fishing can alleviate, or even completely eliminate, this problem. If the weak stock is long-lived, but slow to reproduce, significantly higher yields can be obtained by using reserves than by using fishing effort controls alone.”

Properly managing marine reserves, according to researchers, would be the most effective strategy to simultaneously promote conservation and benefit fishing interests, according to the published study.

“Reserves have a distinct advantage as a management tool in many of the most critical multispecies settings,” researchers stated in their study.

The West Coast groundfish fishery was cited as a recently rebounded species benefitting from marine reserve management. The fishery had reportedly collapsed in the early 2000s.

“While it may sound counterintuitive, the study shows that marine reserves can help avoid reductions of allowable catch. The end result is fishermen catch more of the fish they target while protecting the weaker fish that can be caught inadvertently by indiscriminate fishing gear,” Kat Kerlin wrote in an article published by UC Davis shortly before the study was released.

“Using multispecies models, the study’s authors found that in these cases, marine reserves always produce significantly higher yields of both strong and weak stocks than restricting fishing efforts alone,” Kerlin later stated.

California already has a system of Marine Protected Areas, or MPAs, in place. The MPAs general aim is to help preserve various forms of marine life.

The researchers involved in the UC Davis study were Alan Hastings, Steven D. Gaines and Christopher Costello.

Robert Schwemmer photo

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