Not a fish story: Protected corals increase fishing profits

May 13, 2010
A new study shows that fishers in Kenya are benefiting from protected coral reefs with larger, more profitable catches. Credit: Josh Cinner ARC Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies

The Wildlife Conservation Society today announced findings from a study showing that closures and gear restrictions implemented in fishing areas can increase fishery revenue and net profits. The landmark findings, presented today at the Subsidiary Body on Scientific, Technical, and Technological Advice of the Convention on Biological Diversity held in Nairobi, Kenya, will help usher in a new era of acceptance for fishery management solutions that provide for local communities while protecting the world's priority seascapes.

The extensive 12-year study recorded information on 27,000 fish caught within three fishery locations on Kenya's coast: one abutting an area closed to fishing; a second located far from the closure area and with restrictions on seine nets in place; and a third open to fishing without restrictions and located far from closure areas. In the first area, results showed that fish migrating into the fishery from the closure area included more preferred species, as well as larger fish. These fish commanded higher prices per pound. The surprising effect of the closure was an increase in revenue to the fishers. Further, the study found that restrictions on the use of seine nets in the second area also increased fishery revenue.

The study, by Wildlife Conservation Society Senior Conservationist Tim McClanahan, will appear in the May online edition of the journal Conservation Biology. It is the first long-term study on the effects of fishery closures on fisher profits. The results indicated that the existing simplifications used in fisheries tell only part of the story. By identifying the role that closures play on the types and size of fish caught, and the corresponding effect on pricing, McClanahan uncovered a more accurate and informative evaluation of fishers' incomes - a discovery with potentially profound implications.

"Resistance to closures and gear restrictions from fishers and the is based largely on the perception that these options are a threat to profits. These findings challenge those perceptions." said McClanahan. By showing that prized species and larger fish are entering fisheries indirectly through the closures, we see that closures are a direct benefit to the fishers."

The findings come as the Earth's oceans are being fished beyond their limits and one third of all reef-building corals are threatened with extinction. Fishery closures are among the most effective solutions studied to protect reef areas and vital habitat for countless species to feed, grow and replenish their numbers—but are also perceived by fishers as a threat to profits.

McClanahan's in-depth empirical study indicated no long-term loss to fishers and instead led to more support for the concept of closing fisheries. Fishers eventually realized compensation in the form of a larger and more valuable catch—and in some cases—higher net incomes.

"Evidence indicating that these management options provide a long-term income and profit boost for individual fishers provides great hope for the world's oceans and coastal economies," said Dr. Caleb McClennen, Director of Marine Conservation for WCS. "A disproportionately high percentage of the world's marine biodiversity is situated adjacent to developing coastal nations, where sustainable economic development and poverty alleviation are top priorities."

The findings demonstrated that when evaluating and informing options, an analysis on how fish pricing is affected by closures and gear restrictions is essential. In addition, the findings show that management options serving multiple bottom-line interests may be within closer reach than previously believed—in Kenya and elsewhere.

The Wildlife Conservation Society works to ensure protection of 90 percent of tropical coral reef biodiversity by improving conservation of priority seascapes in the Caribbean, Western Indian Ocean and the Coral Triangle. Critical support for this study was provided by the Tiffany & Co. Foundation, the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association and the World Bank.

In the United States, continued reauthorization of the Coral Reef Conservation Act and enhanced coordination and support from multilateral and federal institutions, such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the U.S. Agency for International Development, is critical to provide leadership assistance to the most vulnerable human populations in implementing innovative programs to address coastal poverty, the loss of marine biodiversity, and the imperative to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

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