A new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that protecting an additional 5% of the ocean can increase future fish catch by 20% or more. Growing up in a fishing community in the Philippines, lead researcher Dr. Reniel Cabral believes that marine protected areas (MPAs) can benefit both conservation and fisheries goals simultaneously. In the past, MPAs have been used as conservation tools, however a focus on fisheries may provide a necessary incentive for many coastal nations to adopt or expand them.
“We are curious if we design MPAs to increase fisheries productivity on a global scale, how much food can we generate, and how expensive will it be?” says Dr. Cabral, who hopes to see 30% of the world’s oceans protected by 2030; a widespread conservation goal. Currently only 2.5% of the ocean is fully protected, however Dr. Cabral anticipates that the research will provide a scientific basis for nations to view protected areas as investments into the future success of their fisheries.
The study entitled “A global network of marine protected areas for food” looked at MPA siting and area coverage using fisheries data for over 1,300 commercially-important fish species to determine how much fish biomass could be available for the fishing industry if more of the ocean was protected. Building on years of previous research, the research team modeled protection networks to predict fisheries success. They found, unsurprisingly, that expansion of MPAs will have the greatest impact in areas where overfishing is occurring, which is often in the developing world where fisheries management resources are less robust.