Synergistic Effects of Marine Reserves and Harvest Controls on the Abundance and Catch Dynamics of a Coral Reef Fishery

Curr Biol. 2016 Jun 20;26(12):1543-1548. doi: 10.1016/j.cub.2016.04.022. Epub 2016 May 12.


Marine no-take reserves, where fishing and other extractive activities are prohibited, have well-established conservation benefits [1], yet their impacts on fisheries remains contentious [2-4]. For fishery species, reserves are often implemented alongside more conventional harvest strategies, including catch and size limits [2, 5]. However, catch and fish abundances observed post-intervention are often attributed to reserves, without explicitly estimating the potential contribution of concurrent management interventions [2, 3, 6-9]. Here we test a metapopulation model against observed fishery [10] and population [11] data for an important coral reef fishery (coral trout; Plectropomus spp.) in Australia's Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) to evaluate how the combined increase in reserve area [12] and reduction in fishing effort [13, 14] in 2004 influenced changes in fish stocks and the commercial fishery. We found that declines in catch, increases in catch rates, and increases in biomass since 2004 were substantially attributable to the integration of direct effort controls with the rezoning, rather than the rezoning alone. The combined management approach was estimated to have been more productive for fish and fisheries than if the rezoning had occurred alone and comparable to what would have been obtained with effort controls alone. Sensitivity analyses indicate that the direct effort controls prevented initial decreases in catch per unit effort that would have otherwise occurred with the rezoning. Our findings demonstrate that by concurrently restructuring the fishery, the conservation benefits of reserves were enhanced and the fishery cost of rezoning the reserve network was socialized, mitigating negative impacts on individual fishers.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Australia
  • Conservation of Natural Resources / methods*
  • Coral Reefs*
  • Fisheries / statistics & numerical data*
  • Models, Biological*
  • Perciformes*