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Quick Facts:

  • Creating marine protected areas with areas closed to fishing is shown to increase catches outside of the closed areas.
  • 41% of all U.S. waters are in some sort of MPA
  • Only 3% of U.S. waters are in no-take MPAs!






For more information about these and other marine issues, please contact Marine Conservation Institute's policy and science experts.
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Recently US marine protected areas (MPAs) have been in the news as an effective tool for promoting both ecological and economic growth. There has been a report on research of the Tortugas Ecological Reserve in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary that revealed an increase in commercially harvested species within the no-take reserve; the favorable response to the proposed expansion of the Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones National Marine Sanctuary; 

and the glowing reviews of the effects of the central California coast MPA system five years after  implementation. Although evidence points at both ecological and economic improvements due to marine protected areas, we still lack protection of key areas for most of our commercial fish stocks, many of which are now in collapse.


Marine Conservation Institute provides the following articles from the New York Times Room for Debate: Too Few Fish in the Sea, a multi-stakeholder debate on the feasibility of meeting consumer demand for seafood, while also protecting marine life. These articles, as well as the article by Taras Grescoe, identifies the use of marine protected areas as not only a logical but also effective method of rebuilding fish stocks. Marine Conservation Institute works to identify important marine ecosystems and advocates for their protection as marine protected areas.

Debate Prompt: Too Few Fish in the Sea

March 3, 2013, The New York Times
Fish plays a starring role in the Mediterranean diet that's supposed to keep us healthy. And yet it's a disappearing commodity.

Meanwhile, there is growing concern about what is sustainable, or even identifiable.


Is there a way to meet consumer demand for quality seafood and protect threatened marine life at the same time?



Simple Steps, Big Effects
By Jon Hoekstra, chief scientist and vice president of the World Wildlife Fund.

Fishermen in the New England Cod Fishery.

Source: Katherine Taylor, New York Times

A blend of common sense and creativity will be critical to meeting demand for seafood while protecting the species and places we care about.


One example is marine protected areas. The logic makes sense: if you stop catching fish in a particular area, they grow larger and reproduce, and the population becomes more abundant. And as fish populations recover, local marine ecosystems are able to bounce back, and their abundance spills over to surrounding waters. For instance, if we protect spawning grounds and critical nursery habitats like coral reefs, sea grasses and mangroves, then over the longer term we will see more lucrative fishing outside those protected areas.


This is just one piece of the solution, though. We must look at how fisheries are managed and how fish are caught. Fisheries science can help determine how much catch a fish stock can sustain year after year -- exceed the limit, and future harvests will be smaller. The Marine Stewardship Council has established standards for sustainable fishing and seafood traceability. And World Wildlife Fund's Smart Gear competition has fostered technology innovations that reduce bycatch of sea turtles, seabirds and other marine species. One simple but effective innovation is the use of circle hooks to reduce turtle bycatch. Once again, it's about creativity and common sense.


And if balancing the needs of people with those of the ocean is our end game, we should create the incentives to encourage fishing and consumption for long-term management. More than a billion people around the world rely on fisheries for food and income. Promoting stewardship through rights-based management - both for small and large-scale fisheries - will help us achieve the balance we need.


If we bring the right tools to the table we can ensure healthy and productive oceans forever. 



Give Fish a Refuge: Partition the Sea

By Callum Roberts, professor of marine conservation at the University of York, England, and the author of  "The Ocean of Life: The Fate of Man and the Sea."


Almost 400 years ago, Captain John Smith, the founder of the Jamestown colony, wrote dramatically about the wonderful fishing off the coast of Virginia, in particular the "large-sized fish called Hallibut":

Some are taken so big that two men have much a doe to hall them into the boate; but there is such plenty, that the fisher men onely eate the heads & fines, and throw away the bodies.

Such a catch would not happen today, because most giant fish are long gone. 


The halibut was an early casualty of the intensification of fishing in North America, and had become a rarity by the mid-19th century. It has since been joined in aquatic obscurity by a lengthening list of unfortunates: Atlantic wolffish, Acadian redfish, barndoor skate and smalltooth sawfish, to name four. Their misfortune was to grow large, mature late and have long lifespans, a lethal combination in the face of industrial fishing. If you kill indiscriminately, as many fishing methods do, you create winners and losers.


The lions and elephants of the sea dwindle and yield to the rats and cockroaches. Since ocean rats and cockroaches, like flounder and prawns, still taste pretty good, we carry on fishing hard to the point where the giants of old are pushed to the edge of extinction. Only a draconian cut in fishing would bring them back, which would most likely mean extinction for the fishing industry.


The solution is to place some areas off-limits to fishing, about a third of the sea. Within these refuges, fish could once again thrive and grow into toothsome behemoths, and ocean currents would carry their abundant young into surrounding seas to replenish fishing grounds. Marine reserves allow us to have our fish and eat them too.




To view the original articles and the rest of the debate, please go here.