In my posting last week on MPAs with fisheries objectives, I mentioned that we had been asked to provide some advice on the subject to Pacific Island fisheries departments. What I should also have mentioned was that we were specifically asked to try and cut through some of the confusing and complex issues being raised by both sides in what has become a very political debate, with targets being set, and "political will" being mobilised to achieve those targets, with more attention being paid to getting the message across than to considering what the message really means.
We were asked to simplify things for the benefit of fisheries managers. What do MPAs actually offer to fisheries managers?
When I read back what I wrote last week I realise that I didn't cut much confusion - possibly even added to it. I didn't state the basic question (above) clearly enough.
The bottom line, I think, is this:
- There are many good justifications for setting up reserves and Marine Protected Areas, without needing to invoke fisheries management. However, "benefits for fisheries" are often quoted as additional justification.
- If you are a fisheries manager, then examine these claims in isolation from the other claims for heritage benefits and biodiversity conservation. It is usually assumed that an MPA will have a beneficial effect on fisheries, but when you look at it closely it may not - except in the kinds of limited cases I outlined, such as protection for spawning areas for particular species (the trochus reserve on Saipan in the Northern Marianas Islands - see the map above - is likely to be an example), or if you can believe assumptions that larvae are widely distributed etc.
- A no-take MPA may protect marine resources from fishing, but that is different from helping fisheries. As I suggested in my blog last week, an MPA might even promote fisheries collapse in surrounding areas, and will usually result in lower total food-fisheries production from the whole island.
It gets complicated when we consider the definition of the term "Marine Protected Area". Most people automatically assume that MPA means "Banned to fishing". But an MPA is usually defined as an area where human impact is restricted in some way, from light restrictions all the way through to complete no-go areas.
If you look at the definitions objectively you will find that most of the sea is already, technically, covered by MPAs which restrict use in one form or another through conventional and long-standing fisheries management measures - in different areas there may be gear restrictions, or limited entry licencing, or minimum size limits for fish in place. If your politicians have already declared to the international community that a certain percentage of the marine spaces in your island will become part of a "network of MPAs" then check what they mean by "MPA". You may already partly qualify.
For example, if the entire EEZ of a particular country is off-limits to whaling, it usually declares that the EEZ is a "whale sanctuary" and includes this in any discussion of MPA networks in relation to global targets. (Try googling the search terms ["South Pacific" "whale sanctuary" mpa] and see how many hits there are). But many entire Pacific Island EEZs are also off-limits to other fisheries, including driftnetting, and this does not get mentioned in any discussion of MPA networks because it came about through conventional fisheries management actions.
Anyway - if you are incensed by any of my comments, please read the previous blog on the subject. I am not anti-MPA. I'm just worried that the whole issue of "MPAs with fisheries management objectives" has not been thought through before possibly unsustainable claims are made for their benefits to fisheries.
I have no doubt about their benefits in other respects, and I strongly believe that there should be at least some places in the Pacific Islands region where mankind's foot is not allowed to fall too heavily. As long as the price is not entirely borne by rural communities. I reckon there IS a price, despite what is often claimed (try googling ["marine protected areas" "win-win"]) - "If you restrict fishing in this area today, you will reap better harvests in surrounding areas tomorrow". Perhaps. And perhaps not.
I welcome reasonable debate on this topic. That's the primary reason I put this up here, but I realise that this is a new blog, and judging by previous experience, it's likely to take a while before there is enough readership to sustain a discussion.