Marine reserves solve an important bycatch problem in fisheries [Sustainability Science]
Management of the diverse fisheries of the world has had mixed success. While managing single species in data-rich environments has been largely effective, perhaps the greatest challenge facing fishery managers is how to deal with mixed stocks of fish with a range of life histories that reside in the same location. Because many fishing gears are nonselective, and the costs of making gear selective can be high, a particular problem is bycatch of weak stocks. This problem is most severe when the weak stock is long-lived and has low fecundity and thus requires a very long recovery time once overfished. We investigate the role that marine reserves might play in solving this challenging and ubiquitous problem in ecosystem-based management. Evidence for marine reserves’ potential to manage fisheries in an ecosystem context has been mixed, so we develop a heuristic strategic mathematical model to obtain general conclusions about the merits of managing multispecies fisheries by using reserves relative to managing them with nonspatial approaches. We show that for many fisheries, yields of strong stocks can be increased, and persistence of weak stocks can be ensured, by using marine reserves rather than by using traditional nonspatial approaches alone. Thus, reserves have a distinct advantage as a management tool in many of the most critical multispecies settings. We also show how the West Coast groundfish fishery of the United States meets these conditions, suggesting that management by reserves may be a superior option in that case.
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