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Fisheries management aims to achieve the optimal and sustainable utilization of the fishery resource for the benefit of humankind whilst safeguarding the ecosystem. Modern fisheries management is based on scientific information that is used to develop the rules under which the fisheries operate. Typically, management is directed at maintaining a stock size that gives the maximum sustainable yield (or catch) through various management regulations (e.g. total allowable catch [TAC], number of boats in the fishery, etc.) aimed at controlling, either directly or indirectly, the level of fishing mortality. Fishing management involves not only direct regulations, but also management of access rights, influencing of fisher’s attitudes toward the resources and other broader issues. The scope of fisheries management has widened in recent years to consider aspects beyond size of the fishery resource, implying an ecosystem approach.
The ecosystem approach to fisheries (EAF) has evolved based on an appreciation of the interactions that take place between fisheries and ecosystems. EAF takes its focus in fisheries management but broadens the perspective beyond seeing a fishery as simply “fish in the sea, people in boats”, beyond consideration only of commercially important species, and beyond management efforts directed solely at the harvesting process. EAF requires the inclusion in the management paradigm of interactions between the core of the fishery - fish and fishers - as well as other elements of the ecosystem and the human system relevant to management. Because of their ability to address multiple objectives, e.g. fisheries management and nature conservation, MPAs fit well into an ecosystem approach.

The precautionary approach is one of the basic principles of the 1995 FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries and involves the application of prudent foresight to deal with uncertainties in fisheries systems. Because uncertainty can be expected to be greater when widening fisheries management to include ecosystem considerations, the precautionary approach gains even greater importance within EAF.


How are fisheries managed?

There are many types of fisheries management or fisheries management tools, including (a) catch limits or a total allowable catch (TAC), (b) fishing effort limits (i.e. limited number of boats or gear; restrictions on number of trips), (c) restrictions on the size of fish that can be caught or retained, (d) gear restrictions, (e) access controls (e.g. licences), (f) allocation of shares in a fishery (in terms of catch, effort, or space, e.g. Territorial Use Rights in Fisheries [TURFs] etc.), and (g) time-area-gear type closures. Time-area-gear type closures – one of the oldest forms of fisheries management – is a form of MPAs. TURFs can also be considered MPAs if those holding the user right impose restrictions on who can do what within the designated area.


How are MPAs used within fisheries management?

MPAs are a multipurpose fishery management and conservation tool. Some of the common reasons for establishing MPAs are:  (a) to protect a specific life history stage, (b) to control fishing mortality, (c) for the spillover effect of fish migrating across the boundaries of an MPA so they can be fished, (d) to serve as a source and/or sink for fish eggs and larvae to improve recruitment, (e)  to protect habitat, food web integrity and biodiversity, (f) to reduce bycatch, discarding and other negative impacts on harvested species, other species, endangered species and other species society wants to protect, (g) to reduce competition between user groups or to enhance opportunities for certain groups of users (by establishing rights), and (h) as a potential hedge against uncertainty.


Can MPAs solve all the problems of fisheries?

No, they are not a “silver bullet” in terms of solving fishery management problems. They do not address some key elements of fisheries management, such as the assignment of fishing rights or overall management of an area beyond the boundary of an MPA. MPAs also have quite different effects on different species. If MPAs are used as the sole mechanism for conservation and for limiting the amount of fish that can be caught, the extent of the area that will need to be protected may be unrealistically large, particularly for mobile fish species. They are also, in many circumstances, inferior to other fishery management tools in terms of potential yield and economic performance. The best results will be achieved when an appropriate mix of fisheries and ecosystem management tools are applied.


Is it always necessary to include MPAs as a part of fisheries management?

No, but with the evolution toward an ecosystem approach, MPAs are an increasingly useful component within the fishery management toolbox. They are particularly useful to protect habitat, biodiversity, and species of particular concern, and they may be a useful hedge against uncertainty, although they should not be relied on as the only hedge. Depending on the situation, some common fisheries management tools may not be feasible and MPAs may then be a better option. However, there are almost always multiple choices with regard to available tools for achieving fishery management and conservation objectives (e.g. MPAs, fish size limits, allocation of rights, gear restrictions) and these should be selected and balanced within the relevant policy and management framework.

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