Fisheries, Oceanography and Society Symposium Series: Marine Protected Areas


Introduction and Summary
by Laurence P. Madin
Director of the Ocean Life Institute

Growing concern about declining fisheries, habitat degradation and loss of marine species has led to increased discussion and advocacy of marine protected areas (MPAs) as part of the solution to these environmental, social and economic problems. Like parks, preserves, and wilderness areas on land, marine protected areas can provide populations, species and habitats with varying degrees of protection from exploitation or degradation. However, the planning of successful marine reserves depends on acknowledging and understanding the underlying oceanographic, ecological, economic and political realities. The establishment of marine protected areas involves and affects many sectors of society ö the fishing industry, regulatory agencies, coastal communities, recreation interests, marine scientists and various levels of government. Advocates of MPAs for fishery enhancement and habitat protection include academic scientists (e.g. Scientific Consensus Statement on Marine Reserves and Marine Protected Areas) and the federal government (e.g. NOAA NMFS and MPA program). The fishing community is also becoming involved in the discussion, and is clearly one of the most important participants in decisions about the role of marine reserves in overall fishery management.

As part of this national dialogue, the Ocean Life Institute of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution hosted this Symposium on Marine Protected Areas on August 27-29, 2001. The meeting was the second in our series called ãFisheries, Oceanography and Societyä, which is intended to explore various aspects of fisheries as they affect marine science, conservation, economics and social structure. The aim of the current symposium was to provide a broad view of current thinking about marine protected areas. This included the perspectives of various stakeholder groups, some favorable to MPAs and some with reservations. The meeting also placed emphasis on the scientific theory and practice that are fundamental to the rational planning and management of reserves in varied ocean environments. Most of the discussion of MPAs in this meeting was about no-take reserves, at least for some species.

We invited a broad spectrum of participants to the meeting ö from academia, NOAA agencies, Fishery Management Councils, commercial fishermen, Congress, environmental groups and conservation NGOs. In all, about 150 participants attended the Symposium, listening to invited talks and panel discussions from 30 speakers. There was lively and extended discussion throughout the 3 day meeting, but a remarkable collegial and cooperative atmosphere for a topic which has sometimes been divisive.

The format of our meeting included a full initial day of talks designed to present the major issues and perspectives on MPAs today. During the second and third days, talks were somewhat more focused on specific experiences with MPAs, and on aspects of the science and technology that underpin successful design and implementation of marine protected areas. A final discussion developed into a true audience participation event that lasted well beyond the scheduled adjournment.

Major Points of the Symposium
Several speakers discussed the definition and history of marine protected areas. Mike Fogarty cited a general definition (from Agardy 1997) of an MPA as “Any area of the coastal zone or open ocean conferred some level of protection for the purpose of management of use of resources or protection of vulnerable or threatened habitats or species.” Roger Griffis, Director of the NOAA MPA program, elaborated on the range of MPA types currently recognized in U.S. waters, and Sally Yozell summarized description of the various protected areas and reserves defined by the World Conservation Union and the National Research Council, stressing the importance of understanding the differences. Dick Allen made the point that there is little disagreement about the broad concept of “some level of protection” in MPAs, but the real issue is over the justification of ‘no-take marine reserves’, areas permanently closed to all fishing activities. Fogarty reminded us that regulation of fishing gear, effort and location date back hundreds of years, citing the prohibition of harmful dredging in Britain in 1366. Protected areas of some sort have long been a component of fishery management policy, as described by Paul Howard in his discussion of closed areas in the Gulf of Maine and elsewhere, and their relationship to other fishery management measures.

Many of the talks addressed the role of MPAs or no-take reserves in fishery management or restoration. Reserves are ‘spatial management’ measures, which can be combined with other mechanisms to control fishing effort or total catch in adjacent regions. Allen disputed the value of reserves relative to other regulatory measures that don’t involve permanent closure. Dan Holland used the Georges Bank groundfish fishery as a test of the potential role of reserves in optimal fishery management, and Mike Neubert provided a theoretical demonstration that reserves can enhance fishery yield when combined with management of fishing effort outside the reserve boundaries. Jim Sanchirico, from Resources for the Future, discussed the range of stakeholder interests that must be taken into account as MPAs are implemented, and Ed Houde reviewed the study and report on MPAs conducted by the National Academy of Sciences under his chairmanship. Jim Bohnsack described the enhancement of gamefish production outside the no-take reserve at Cape Canaveral as an example of ‘spillover’ effects from protected areas. This example and another have recently been published (Roberts et al. 2001. Effects of Marine Reserves on Adjacent Fisheries, Science 294:1920-1923) as some of the first case studies demonstrating positive effects on fishery yield outside the boundaries of a reserve.

Bohnsack’s talk also addressed another perceived value of marine protected areas. Citing the Biotic Ethic of conservationist Aldo Leopold, Bohnsack argued for the value of reserves in “balancing environmental protection with human needs,” with the goal of maintaining the long term health of the marine ecosystem both for its own sake and for its value to human society. The conservation value of marine protected areas, for species, communities and physical habitats, was stressed by many other speakers. Many of these advantages were described by Astrid Scholz, who discussed a range of benefits from fishery enhancement to tourism to simply knowing that healthy marine ecosystems exist in undisturbed states. Steve Gaines’ talk cited examples from around the world of the value of established marine reserves to marine species conservation and habitat protection (abstract not available).
The first day also included a panel discussion from the viewpoints of Congress and federal agencies. Pat Kurkul, the Northeast Regional Administrator of NMFS, discussed the history of closures and protected areas under NMFS and Council authorities, and the process used in considering MPA sites. Sally McGee, a staffer for Rep. Gilchrest (Chairman of the Resources Subcommittee on Fisheries Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans) talked about congressional support of MPA designations, particularly in the Chesapeake Bay. Joe Uravitch described work related to MPA establishment in NOAA National Ocean Service (abstract not available), and Sally Yozell, formerly Deputy Assistant Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere at NOAA, and Executive Director of the National Ocean Conference, clarified the procedures and cautions involved in proposing and establishing new protected areas.
Another important constituency in the MPA discussion are the marine-oriented environmental and conservation organizations. Three of these groups presented summaries of their research and policy work on MPAs in the final talks on the first day. Cheri Recchia, Director of MPA programs at the Ocean Conservancy, summarized the various categories of protected areas within the Gulf of Maine, with analysis of the scope of protection they afford. Anthony Chatwin of the Conservation Law Foundation described their joint U.S.-Canadian project to map out proposed MPAs in the Gulf of Maine, using GIS methods to characterize habitats. Moving to the West coast, Astrid Scholz of the Environmental Defense Fund discussed the expected environmental, social and economic benefits of marine reserves in the Channel Islands.

A major emphasis in this meeting was discussion of principles and methods for the design, establishment and evaluation of protected areas, whether their intent was to help manage fisheries, conserve biodiversity, or preserve esthetic values. Theoretical treatments of population dynamics, genetics and dispersal as they affect preserve design were presented by Allan Hastings and Irv Kornfield (abstract not available), while Maile Neel provided an example from the terrestrial environment of designing reserves to maximize the conservation of genetic diversity in plants. The importance of life-history characteristics of particular species to the design of reserves was illustrated by Rom Lipcius in a talk comparing the impact of reserves on spiny lobsters and blue crabs. The physical and biological forces affecting larval transport and settling are also important considerations for the siting of areas designed to protect benthic species, as described by Jesus Pineda. Examples of how life history and dispersal of larval and adult fishes in and around protected areas can be tracked by the geochemical composition of the fish otoliths were given by Simon Thorrold, and John Quinlan demonstrated the role of coupled physical-biological models for visualization and interpretation of population dynamics through time and space (abstract not available). Further analyses of the importance of understanding life history, distributions and community structure were provided by Peter Auster, Steve Murawski and Molly Lutcavage for fishes in the Gulf of Maine and Northeast Shelf, ranging from benthic cod and haddock to the highly migratory blue-fin tuna.

In addition to the basic biological and environmental science necessary for effective planning of marine reserves, there is a complex suite of interactions among stakeholders that is necessary to the implementation of successful reserves. This was well illustrated by Benjamin Cowie-Haskell and Anthony Iarocci’s description of the process followed to establish the Tortugas Ecological Reserve, the largest and newest no-take reserve in the U.S. Once protected areas have been established, it is essential to have a process for assessing their actual effectiveness in meeting the original goals. Mark Carr discussed criteria for successful MPAs, and a protocol for evaluating them.

The Symposium concluded with a final panel discussion that attempted to distill the main points of agreement, disagreement or uncertainty from the meeting. The five panel members, Mike Fogarty, Dick Allen, Ed Houde, Cheri Recchia and Roger Griffis, presented their own views of the main points of consensus or discussion during the three days, and responded to questions and comments from other participants in the audience. The following summary points are based on those presentations and a transcript of the recorded discussion, and represent topics that were widely agreed to be important.

  1. In many situations, MPAs have been shown, theoretically and empirically, to result in increased species diversity, abundance, biomass and size within their boundaries. Other recent studies demonstrate that MPAs may also lead to direct fishery benefits, such as increased yield or size of fish, in adjacent open areas. With respect to ecosystems, MPAs are a more conservative and precautionary approach than most other fishery management methods.
  2. MPAs, where established, should be part of a balanced fishery management plan. Spatial restrictions are probably going to play an important role in future fisheries management, but they cannot simply replace other conventional fisheries management tools. Reserves are well suited to protection of nursery areas and special habitats, but may not always be the best way to control mortality of adult fish. Other management approaches, such as effort reduction or gear restriction may still be needed in areas adjacent to MPAs.
  3. There is increasing acceptance of the idea that protected marine parks or wilderness areas are valuable and desirable in their own right, for preservation of habitats, communities and diversity, and for the human appreciation of nature.
  4. MPAs also have great value for research. They can provide undisturbed sites for control and baseline studies, as well as for evaluation of the effectiveness of MPAs for fishery and conservation goals. Establishment and evaluation of MPAs would stimulate new research on dispersal and community structure, and the development of new techniques for monitoring populations and ecosystem functions.
  5. Thus, the most compelling case for marine reserves is their ability to meet multiple conservation, research and resource management objectives simultaneously, as no other kind of fishery management can. MPAs can have benefits for non-exploited species and whole ecosystems, as well as commercial species. Sometimes they may be desirable for reasons other than fishery management. Although some MPAs may be needed to meet a single, well-defined goal, the strongest argument for their adoption may be their multiple benefits.
  6. In general, specification of target percentage areas for protection by MPAs is not appropriate and can be misleading. Percentage values really should be a percentage of stock size, which can be related to habitat area by specific studies of density to habitat relationships. While target percentages can stimulate debate, the details of location and size of a marine reserve are too important to be met with a single blanket figure for how much to set aside.
  7. There is still much uncertainty about reserve performance due to lack of information on dispersal of young and adult stages, and to stochastic variation in transport and other physical and biological processes. We can’t assume that all reserves will perform as planned. Other management techniques might have to adapt to uncertainties in reserve performance.
  8. There are powerful decision-making tools and approaches that can be used to develop options and engage participants for new MPAs. Coupled physical-biological models with consideration of larval and adult behavior are essential for site selection and evaluation. Models need to be able to realistically capture characteristics of particular MPA locations.
  9. It is crucial to have before and after and/or control site monitoring to evaluate MPA performance. For fishery effects, monitoring may be already in place, but new programs might be needed for non-exploited species or habitat characteristics. We don’t want to have a false sense that MPAs are working if they’re not, and can’t have a different standard for measuring their effectiveness just because MPAs are newer than other methods. This evaluation will be expensive, but if ecosystem-based management of fisheries becomes the new standard under the revised Magnuson Act, then it may cover the needed range of species and parameters.
  10. Coastal fisheries and habitats are likely to be affected by many other human activities besides resource extraction. These include land development, pollution, runoff, and excess nutrients, all factors that need to be controlled in addition to fishing effort.
  11. Successful planning and establishment of MPAs depends on involvement of all affected parties from the start of the planning process. A successful example was described from the Tortugas, but it is also instructive to look at failed cases of MPA planning to see what went wrong.
  12. Part of the failure of earlier resource management efforts was the lack of a common sense of stewardship among all stakeholders, leading to disputes, compromises and ineffective regulation. Cooperative stewardship could be more effective than limits imposed by one group on another. In this spirit, the fishing community could play a major role in the monitoring and enforcement of MPAs.