The good, the bad and the ugly of marine reserves for fishery yields

Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2015 Nov 5;370(1681):20140276. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2014.0276.


Marine reserves (MRs) are used worldwide as a means of conserving biodiversity and protecting depleted populations. Despite major investments in MRs, their environmental and social benefits have proven difficult to demonstrate and are still debated. Clear expectations of the possible outcomes of MR establishment are needed to guide and strengthen empirical assessments. Previous models show that reserve establishment in overcapitalized, quota-based fisheries can reduce both catch and population abundance, thereby negating fisheries and even conservation benefits. By using a stage-structured, spatially explicit stochastic model, we show that catches under quota-based fisheries that include a network of MRs can exceed maximum sustainable yield (MSY) under conventional quota management if reserves provide protection to old, large spawners that disproportionally contribute to recruitment outside the reserves. Modelling results predict that the net fishery benefit of MRs is lost when gains in fecundity of old, large individuals are small, is highest in the case of sedentary adults with high larval dispersal, and decreases with adult mobility. We also show that environmental variability may mask fishery benefits of reserve implementation and that MRs may buffer against collapse when sustainable catch quotas are exceeded owing to stock overestimation or systematic overfishing.

Keywords: demographic and management models; large spawners; marine reserves; quota-based fisheries; total allowable catches.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biodiversity
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods*
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / statistics & numerical data
  • Ecosystem
  • Female
  • Fertility
  • Fisheries / methods*
  • Fisheries / statistics & numerical data
  • Fishes / growth & development
  • Fishes / physiology
  • Larva / growth & development
  • Male
  • Marine Biology
  • Models, Biological
  • Population Dynamics
  • Stochastic Processes