The concept of "harvest refugia,"
closing areas as a quick fix to protect marine resources, is gaining
popularity worldwide. More than 100 marine protected areas now
exist in California. Legislation introduced in 1997 in California,
proposing sweeping reforms in management of California's
ocean resources, also included the concept of "marine replenishment
zones," where fishing would be prohibited. In addition,
various advocacy groups have proposed closing approximately 20
percent of fishing grounds, not only in California but around
What is known about harvest refugia and -
equally important - what isn't? Here's
food for thought from independent scientists on the potential
for marine reserves in fishery management.
For heavily fished resident
species (as opposed to wide ranging species), marine reserves
tend to support denser populations of larger individuals than
are found outside reserves.
But dense populations within reserves
do not necessarily lead to increased catches in surrounding waters.
To have a strong effect on local fishing,
there must be net spillover of fishes across reserve boundaries.
Many species are habitat specific, reluctant to disperse across
foreign habitats. While it is reasonable to expect some amount
of spillover, accurate prediction of the amount is, at present,
impossible. And spillover from a reserve will probably not demonstrably
increase catches other than very near the reserve boundaries.
Export of larvae from reserves has the potential
to increase the sustainability of heavily impacted fisheries.
But the significance of this effect depends on the species involved,
the fishing pressure received, the size of the reserve, and local
and regional current patterns.
The export of larvae from reserves
to augment regional fisheries has theoretical potential but is
almost entirely unproven. Its only great benefit will be to fisheries
that are limited by the number of larvae that settle, and its
success will depend on many difficult-to-predict factors.
To design effective marine reserves, studies
are needed of the movement patterns and habitat requirements of
all life stages (larval, settlement, juvenile, adult, feeding
and breeding) of all targeted species.
The lack of detailed and scientifically
defensible knowledge regarding the effects of reserves makes the
establishment of new reserves very difficult. Existing reserves
have been established without baseline studies.
Because improperly designed refuges may endanger
a fishery by providing a false sense of protection (or by placing
unwarranted limits and restrictions on harvesting of renewable
seafood resources), determining the effectiveness of a refuge
is of utmost importance.
There is a perception that marine reserves
will provide effective protection to all resident species with
little need for detailed knowledge of the species and without
direct management of populations within the reserve. This is
... wishful thinking.
Management may need to include a
variety of options - including allowing selective
- R.J. Rowley, Case Studies and Review, Marine reserves in fishery management, in Aquatic Conservation: Marine ad Freshwater Ecosystems, Vol. 4 233-254 (1994)
- Mark Carr & Daniel Reed, Conceptual Issues
Relevant to Marine Harvest Refuges, in Can.J. Fish.Aquat.Sci.,
Vol. 50, (1993)