8 Scientists talk about Marine Protected Areas

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?

Featured in this discussion:

 

Serge Garcia
IUCN Fisheries Experts Group (FEG) Chair, former Director of the Fisheries Management Division, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations

Nobuyuki Yagi
Associate Professor, The University of Tokyo, Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences

Chris Costello
Professor of Natural Resource Economics, Bren School UCSB and
Research Associate, National Bureau of Economic Research

Doug Butterworth
Emeritus Professor, Department of Mathematics and Applied Mathematics, University of Cape Town

Kevern Cochrane
Professor, Department of Ichthyology and Fisheries Science, Rhodes University, formerly Fishery Resources Division of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization

Magnus Johnson – @Acanthephyra
Senior Lecturer in Environmental Marine Biology, University of Hull

Andrew Rosenberg
Director, Center for Science and Democracy, Union of Concerned Scientists, formerly Regional Director for Northeast of National Marine Fisheries Service

John Tanzer – @JohnTanzer_WWF
Director, Global Marine Program at WWF International

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

Serge Garcia:

We cannot, in the same document, call for objectives-based decisions (to allow performance assessment against those objectives) and complain about the 30% objective. What is objectionable is the relationship between such targets and the fundamental goal of protecting and rebuilding biodiversity. The decision process for determining targets is too often not representative of all stakeholders’ needs, especially the fishing industry, and the scientific evidence in support of broader MPA use.

Thus, I do not agree with the 30% target, but it is important that we critique the rationale of this specific target, and not all MPA targets in general.

Nobuyuki Yagi:

30% coverage may be too burdensome in terms of finance for the government to monitor, control and provide surveillance. There may be an optimal point to balance the trade-offs between budgetary constraints of taxpayer and ecosystem conservation.

Chris Costello:

“Expanding objectives [and targets] beyond just fishery management, I think there can be a major role for MPAs. Spatially-segregated policies allow different areas to “specialize” in different things. A NTZ might specialize, for example, in tourism or in generating trophy fish for recreational anglers. Our traditional view of fishery and MSY management is not conducive to these alternative uses.”

Doug Butterworth

“What to my mind is the key issue underlying the declaration or otherwise of an MPA is that the principle of “cogent justification” should apply. The percentage coverage is completely irrelevant – it might be high, it might be low, but logically it should be no more than an incidental output from the process of assessing what is needed to meet agreed conservation/utilization objectives, and not itself an input or objective. Thus the whole concept of “targets” should be taken off the table.”

Andrew Rosenberg:

I don’t object to the 30% target in principal. I think that there’s a lot of ocean out there that people can work in. If we could work to have most of that 30% in EEZs, that would be preferable. Many will argue that we don’t need to do this if we manage fisheries properly in the first place, but unfortunately we aren’t managing well enough or else this wouldn’t be a conversation right now about this 30% goal.”

John Tanzer:

I think targets are always useful to have, but let me just emphasize that the design and management of protected areas are most important – that’s what we really need to focus on. By management I don’t just mean compliance, I also mean monitoring and adjustment over time.

We must emphasize the importance of monitoring to show how the MPAs are working, have transparent objectives, and be able to adjust MPA boundaries to changing ecosystem conditions.

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

Serge Garcia:

Like all fishery management tools, no take zones (NTZs) imply good management capacity. However, they often require less management capacity than multiple-use MPAs or selected take zones and may be the best course of action in areas with weak governance.

It is important to note that NTZs often require buffer zones around them, which muddle the enforcement and creation processes. Furthermore, there haven’t been any assessments of the value of multiple use MPAs (IUCN Type VI), so grading the effectiveness of NTZs compared to other MPA types cannot be done objectively at this time.

NTZs are not useful when the stock in question is totally resident because this generates no spillover. However NTZs have no use when stocks are completely mobile.

Nobuyuki Yagi

The role of the government is important in keeping the non-stakeholders from gaining access to no-take zones and deter free-riders. The costs of such compliance measures should be considered and may be too costly in some instances.

Chris Costello

For the sole purpose of economically efficient fishery management, I think NTZs have some, but limited, applicability. They can clearly benefit overfished fisheries (though probably not by as much as improved management). When management is already present, properly sited NTZs can sometimes improve management outcomes (for example, to capitalize on source-sink dynamics), but I would regard these effects as ‘second order.’

Andrew Rosenberg

I don’t object to fully protected areas, on the other hand they are likely to be very small, at least in my opinion in most cases, simply because implementing a management policy is always a negotiation.

John Tanzer

I don’t get too caught up in definitions of MPAs. What I’m interested in is using them as an effective tool, in using spatial closures to offer sustainability.

NTZs would be best to use when looking at spawning areas or areas that contain critical habitat. One difficulty we have gotten into is we too often focus on MPAs as a tool for increased biodiversity in isolation, which perhaps advocates for broader use of NTZs when that may not be necessary in terms of addressing threats.

The utility and overall wisdom of large ocean MPAs:

Serge Garcia:

The primary argument against large ocean MPAs is that the degree of fishing effort relative to the space protected is minimal compared to smaller more localized MPAs, and the returns may be less tangible. Perhaps large ocean MPAs can be an effective safeguard against future developments, but encroachments from oil and gas companies indicate such aspirations may be wishful thinking.

Another consideration developed by public law experts but not often considered in MPA discourse is that large ocean MPAs may offer states the chance to impose control of remote territories.

Some studies have suggested that the larger the MPA, the lesser the relative cost, similar to an economies of scale rationale. However the most important cost to assess with an MPA is not the expenditures needed to maintain it, but rather the opportunity cost for the loss of access and the effect on livelihoods an MPA might cause. Conservationists sometimes overlook such costs.”

Chris Costello

Most nature reserves on land are accomplished by the private sector. NGOs like The Nature Conservancy and individuals like Ted Turner provide enormous conservation benefits by buying parcels of land and removing most extractive uses. The traditional conservationist’s approach is to fight legal battles to implement them. An alternative is to allocate spatial rights to communities, cooperatives, individuals, fishing firms, etc. which they can sell or lease. This provides a platform for “private MPAs” to be established, just like terrestrial conservation.

In a recently published study, Dan Kaffine and I found that creating “private MPA networks” would be significantly cheaper to achieve, and could be much more palatable to all parties because such networks tend to benefit adjacent fishing areas. From this point of view, the key challenge for government is to design and allocate spatial zones to make private MPA networks possible, while paying careful attention to distributional effects, equity, unintended consequences, etc.

Kevern Cochrane

While private [protected areas] on land have probably had some, possibly important, benefits for conservation in developing countries, they are frequently seen, with justification, as cases of top-down imposition that will enjoy little legitimacy amongst the people they displace and will therefore tend to be fragile and potentially politically unsustainable.

The bottom line is that, particularly in countries with serious social and economic problems, if society does not accept and benefit from a protected area (as appropriate to their historical connectedness), the area will always be at risk and the ethics behind it will typically be flawed (in my view anyway).

Magnus Johnson:

Conservation by the private sector is abhorrent (to me). The misery that has historically been caused by unaccountable philanthropic organizations imposing what they thought best for “ignorant natives” is something we should be ashamed of. I hope we don’t seek to replicate the same in the marine world. Yes government should allocate rights to fish – a messy process and never the same twice – but that’s what government is for. Fishing rights should not, in my opinion, be commodities to be traded and consolidated…It is the peoples who live/work in coastal areas who should have the responsibility for their conservation/management and it is they who should decide on priorities.

Andrew Rosenberg:

Marine protected areas are most effective when they are large, when there are clear rules for exploitation inside and outside the MPA, and when there specific stock recovery goals in mind.

We’re going to have an interesting challenge as resources shift because of climate change. You could say well, just make the protected area bigger, but at some point it will probably be in the wrong place because of climate. The concern is that in fisheries, and many management situations in general, once you’ve taken a major action it is extremely difficult to change it, and I worry MPAs no matter what size they are, will not be dynamic enough to encompass shifting fish stocks due to climate change.

John Tanzer:

To my mind we need to focus on MPAs as tools and not outcomes for their own sake, we too much celebrate declarations of large closures as ends in themselves. Given the state of the oceans I won’t be critical of protection wherever it occurs, but my strong belief is that we really need to be focusing these tools where the threats are greatest, and where the need for sustaining ocean uses is highest. It should be less about declarations of areas for MPAs and more about the design of those MPAs to plan and implement properly – just like every other fishery management and ecosystem sustainability tool.

Putting in networks of MPAs focused on the most threatened areas, but where size is not as important, gets us closer to the mark, I think.

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2 Comments

  1. As John Tanzer penned – – “…we need to focus on MPAs as tools and not outcomes for their own sake…” – – – I totally concur. In that regard the size, location, character, etc of an MPA should be judged against all the management tools available to achieving specific societal ocean objectives. Totally focusing on MPAs as THE ultimate solution without first engaging in such critical evaluation of all the available management tools (which seems to be the case with recent uses of the Antiquities Act to set aside large ocean MPAs without appropriate stakeholder or scientific input) is inviting a suboptimum result and in many cases failure. It is unfortunate that in certain quarters MPAs seem to have taken on quasi religious properties which elevates them beyond such critical evaluations and beyond reproach.

  2. 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.

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