Marine Protected Area Increased Fish and Didn’t Hurt Fishers: Study

The Goukamma nature reserve and marine protected area near Sedgefield, South Africa, has not hurt area fishers, says a new study. Photograph by Kate Diamond, Alamy

We’ve covered marine protected areas (MPAs) a lot in Ocean Views. They come in different flavors and can have different goals, although the basic idea is designating part of the ocean with some kind of legal protection against harmful activities like overfishing or drilling for oil.

Today, a new study published in Nature Communications found that MPAs can rapidly increase fish stocks without disadvantaging fishers. “The work could help towards improving the acceptance of MPAs as a viable fisheries management option,” the scientists said in a statement.

MPAs are often opposed by fishermen, who complain that they can suffer economically by not being allowed to fish as much as they would like in certain areas, or by being forced to travel farther away to more open areas.

So researchers at the University of Cape Town and South Africa’s fisheries agency looked at 15 years of data around the Goukamma MPA, which is located east of Cape Town adjacent to a fishery for Chrysoblephus laticeps – a seabream native to the area.  The scientists found:

Total catch in this area decreased from 1985 but the team report that fish numbers started to increase in 1991, one year after the MPA was implemented. Alongside this increase in catch, they find no evidence that the establishment of the MPA caused a drop in total catch or increased travel distances for fleet or fisherman.

They concluded:

…fisheries in the vicinity of MPAs can recover rapidly after their implementation, possibly without negative consequences for fishers.

Building on Recent Work

In April, National Geographic Explorer-in-Residence Enric Sala and colleagues had published a paper called “A General Business Model for Marine Reserves” in the journal PLoS ONE. The team showed that “marine reserves are an effective tool for protecting biodiversity locally, with potential economic benefits including enhancement of local fisheries, increased tourism, and maintenance of ecosystem services.”

The scientists demonstrated that the added value of marine reserves to local communities can make up for their initial cost in as short as five years. The team also developed a framework that others can use to estimate the value of a marine reserve in their area.

(Enric Sala is currently on an expedition now off Russia.  Also see pictures of the world’s largest marine reserve, learn about National Geographic’s Pristine Seas Expeditions, and view a funny video that explains marine reserves.)


Brian Clark Howard covers the environment for National Geographic. He previously served as an editor for and E/The Environmental Magazine, and has written for Popular Science,,,, Yahoo!, MSN, and elsewhere. He is the co-author of six books, including Geothermal HVACGreen LightingBuild Your Own Small Wind Power System, and Rock Your Ugly Christmas Sweater.

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