The science of sustainable seafood, explained

Kitty Simonds responds to 8 Scientists talk about Marine Protected Areas

The following comment was written by Kitty Simonds as a response to our “8 scientists talk about marine protected areas post” (you can see it in the comment section here). The introduction of that post is followed by Simonds’s response.

Marine protected areas (MPAs) have been a central topic in fisheries news and policy in recent months. In November 2015 a paper by Jane Lubchenco and Kirsten Grorud-Colvert advocated for more “strongly protected” MPAs, and that a goal of 10% protection of coastal marine areas by 2020 suggested at the Convention on Biological Diversity was “too loosely defined”. (Discussed in more detail here by CFoodUW). More recently, President Obama created the largest ecologically protected area on the planet when he expanded a national marine monument in his native Hawaii to encompass more than half a million square miles. Perhaps most significantly, the IUCN World Conservation Congress passed (by a large margin) a motion to protect 30% of global oceans by 2030.

To consider this recent momentum towards greater MPA implementation, we collected responses (originally on an email chain) from an array of scientists & experts and summarized their main points below. The responses were framed around three questions:

What is the utility of setting MPA targets?
Do MPAs need to be No Take Zones (NTZs)?
What is the utility and wisdom of creating large ocean MPAs?

Comment by Kitty Simonds, Executive Director of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council

1: The utility of targets — specifically 30%, but also the creation of appropriate targets for MPAs:

In the Western Pacific, 53% of the collective EEZ or 26% of the total US EEZ has been made through Presidential authority into no take MPAs, as blue legacies for Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama. The issue of targets for us in the Western Pacific has thus become moot. These areas were established with little scientific evidence, and with promises of jobs and tourist dollars, all of which have failed to materialize.

Further, most of the vulnerable habitats in the Western Pacific have been protected for a long time by smaller MPAs that were part of the management of coral reef and associated ecosystems by State, Federal and Territorial Governments. Thus the target percentage becomes meaningless, unless expressed as percent of a given habitat type, and the objectives of the closure.

2: The need for MPAs to be “No Take Zones” (NTZs):

Current MPA theory indicates that NTZs will typically accumulate biomass but from a fisheries management standpoint there should be a payoff from spillover and recruitment enhancement. Unfortunately, recent research using a number of different techniques shows that the Main Hawaiian Islands are isolated in terms of resource management and will not receive substantial subsidy from the large MPA in the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. The MHI must stand alone in management of marine resources.

This nicely illustrates the need for a much more intensive process to implement MPAs, with clearly defined goals, realistic expectations of benefits, review schedules and mechanisms to modify the MPA. Most of the large MPAs in the Western Pacific are isolated by distance and remote from most of the population. Only foreign fishing vessels, government vessels, or expensive well-equipped ocean going private vessels have the ability to reach these areas, so increased tourist traffic is highly unlikely.

3: The utility and overall wisdom of large ocean MPAs:

Large open ocean MPAs have been tried in the Western Pacific, when two large high seas pockets were closed, by the Western & Central Pacific Fisheries Commission but fishing mortality for tunas did not fall as the effort did not decline but moved into neighboring EEZs. Further, highly migratory species by virtue of their life history will move through large ocean MPAs and thus become vulnerable to fishing.

Moreover, with climate change, the static nature of MPAs, large and small, may be called into question if they have no mechanism to be modified or relocated if species distributions change. Establishing an MPA is often seen as the target gain, with no real consideration apart from vaguely defined benefits, nor with the dynamic aspects of ecosystems in mind.

Kitty Simonds is a Native Hawaiian and has been the Executive Director of the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council for over 35 years. Under her leadership, the Council pioneered many innovations that have become standard in national and international fishery management, such as observer programs, logbook programs, vessel monitoring systems and protected species mitigation.


Editor’s note:

A few weeks ago we published “8 Scientists talk about Marine Protected Areas,” a post derived from an email chain of 8 experts talking about recent MPA policies. We were rightfully criticized by scientist Gabby Ahmadia on twitter for featuring 8 men and no women. Upon closer scrutiny of our network of fishery experts, we realized that it skews towards late-career scientists and is thus very male-dominated, a product of institutional barriers that have historically prevented women from entering academia (especially STEM). Fortunately, more women are entering STEM fields and the pool of scientific expertise is as large and diverse as ever. From now on we will do a better job reaching out to a broader pool of experts to solicit comments and input. We also invite any scientist or expert to reach out unsolicited (email or twitter)!


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