Marine reserves help fishermen catch only the fish they want

Commercial fishermen may be able to catch more of the profitable fish they want with marine reserves than without them, according to a study in the journal PNAS led by UC Davis.

Using marine reserves as a management tool also could help the recently rebounded West Coast groundfish fishery sustain itself, the study notes. Groundfish refers to fish that feed near the bottom; some typical saltwater groundfish species are cod, flounder, halibut and sole.

Marine reserves are a subset of Marine Protected Areas. Some MPAs allow fishing, but marine reserves are areas of the ocean closed to fishing and other extractive activities.

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. These untargeted fish are called bycatch, which is one of the most crippling challenges facing global fisheries.

For example, when the West Coast groundfish fishery collapsed in the early 2000s, commercial fishermen were forced to reduce significantly their catch of abundant species to avoid catching overfished species. The solution proposed in this paper, in which bycatch species would be protected inside a marine reserve’s boundaries, could overcome this problem.

“With marine reserves, our models show it’s a win-win situation,” said lead author Alan Hastings, a theoretical ecologist and professor in the UCD department of environmental science and policy. “You can have the harvest you would like from your target species while at the same time benefiting the weak stocks.”

‘Reserves can keep the fishing going’
Many overfished species have long natural lives and are slow to reproduce, as is the case with most groundfish. Using multispecies models, the study’s authors found that in these cases, marine reserves always produce significantly…

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