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Closing large sections of oceans is not silver bullet for managing fisheries

Highlighted protected areas
International fishery experts agree on key area-based management concepts
Source: Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council

Honolulu, HAWAII — Area-based management has become a an international focal point for fisheries management with the United Nations advocating for some form of protected area in 30% of the ocean by 2030.

In response to this initiative and other issues, 34 fishery science and management experts from intergovernmental and nongovernmental agencies, regional fishery management organizations and academia convened by teleconference June 15-17 as a first step toward the development of a "Roadmap to Effective Area-Based Management of Blue Water Fisheries." The workshop addressed emerging issues in national waters and in areas beyond national jurisdiction and called for clarity in objectives, monitoring and area-based selection. It also stressed comparing static vs dynamic area-based approaches.

The participants agreed that simply closing large sections of the ocean is not a silver bullet for managing blue water fisheries and their ecosystems and that marine protected areas (MPAs) are merely a single element within the tool box of area-based management.

"Area-based management tools are not exclusively MPAs or closures," noted Ray Hilborn, professor at the School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington.

Convened by the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council and co-chaired by Hilborn and Vera Agostini (UN Food and Agriculture Organization), the workshop included participants from the Americas, Australia/Oceania and Europe. Workshop contributors addressed the application of area-based management tools to reach objectives pertaining to sustainable food production (local and global), employment (local and global), economic health and welfare, communities and culture, protected and non-target species, ecosystem integrity and resilience to climate change and other stressors.

Area-based management may be static in nature (i.e., have a fixed spatial delineation) or dynamic, whereby portions of the ecosystem closed to fishing can change in space and time. The workshop called for clarity in objectives, monitoring and area-based selection and comparing static vs dynamic area-based approaches.

Participants pointed out that with rapidly emerging technologies to collect data and monitor fisheries, area-based management can be adaptive and more precise in its implementation. But these objectives and management capabilities are also linked with specific need for empirical evidence and research.

"We can't really predict the impacts of many actions because of information gaps," Hilborn said.

Stakeholders and leading scientists cautioned for clear planning on the use of area-based management tools in blue water ecosystems rather than strictly opportunistic or "set it and forget it" implementation. Highly migratory fish movements are dynamic and their distributions are often moving, so scientific evaluation in planning is critical.

"Economic, cultural and social objectives need to be considered thoroughly prior to implementation of area-based management, and industry engagement is critical," noted Craig Severance, professor of anthropology emeritus, University of Hawai'i at Hilo.

Alternative management measures should be explored and evaluated alongside any area-based management measures considered, including take MPAs, the participants agreed.

The workshop will produce the "Roadmap" document by the end of 2020 for publication as peer-reviewed literature.