Fishers near marine protected areas end up traveling farther to catch fish but maintain their social and economic well-being, according to a study by fisheries scientists at Washington State University and in Hawaii.
The study, reported in the journal Biological Conservation, is one of the first to look closely at how protected areas in small nearshore fisheries can affect where fishers operate on the ocean and, as a consequence, their livelihood.
“Where MPAs are located in relation to how fishers operate on the seascape is critical to understand for fisheries management, and this is an important lesson to draw from this study,” said Todd Stevenson, the paper’s lead author, who did the research as part of his WSU doctorate.
Marine protected areas have become a cornerstone of ocean conservation, setting aside specific waters to preserve and manage vulnerable resources like declining fish stocks. In theory, the MPAs will provide a refuge in which fish can breed and help replenish nearby, open areas with their offspring. Nearly 6,000 MPAs have been set up around the world, according to a 2010 report by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources.
Stevenson focused on a network of MPAs on the west coast of the island of
Hawaii, home to an aquarium fish trade and one of the state’s most lucrative nearshore fisheries.
While the fishery is relatively small, with only about 40 active fishers, small-scale fisheries actually employ more people than large-scale operations and catch fish more efficiently.