Researchers and policy makers fight to control declining fish and marine invertebrates populations by placing restrictions and regulations on fisheries, but these can be difficult to enforce and often reduce catch rates. New research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences proposes a different method to save our seafood while increasing the total amount of seafood we can sustainably catch: protect a small fraction of the ocean from fishing.
The team of environmental and marine scientists suggests that fishery yields will drastically increase if we create a new network of Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) where fishing and other human activities are carefully regulated or prohibited. By strategically protecting important ocean habitats, we create sanctuaries where healthy ecosystems flourish and important species of fish can grow and reproduce. Because these MPAs connect to the rest of the ocean (they are not confined by walls or barriers), the species thriving within an MPA eventually spill out into the surrounding areas, improving catches in the process.
Currently, only 2.4 percent of the world’s ocean is designated as highly protected MPAs. The scientists found that protecting an additional 5 percent of ocean area could increase total seafood catches by at least 20 percent. Based on the current value of seafood, the scientists estimate the additional catches will generate $15-19 billion (USD) in revenue each year — significantly outweighing the cost of establishing and managing new MPAs (estimated to cost $2 - $6 billion/year).
While closing potential fishing grounds seems counterintuitive, the researchers point out that humans realistically only fish 4 percent of the ocean and over 50 percent of the ocean could feasibly be protected without restricting the current level of marine food production.