Amid growing fears for the future of the world’s fisheries, a new study by the WWF shows that marine reserves help depleted stocks of commercially important fish to rapidly recover.
The WWF believes both the number of marine protected areas and the area of the oceans covered by reserves should be dramatically expanded to preserve the world’s fisheries.
The study "Benefits Beyond Boundaries: The Fishery Effects of Marine Reserves" analyzed information from more than 60 different marine protected areas around the world. It reveals that these reserves not only preserve species and their habitats but also supply fisheries beyond their boundaries.
For example, as fish breed and multiply in higher quantities in reserves, a greater amount of their eggs reach nearby fishing grounds, where they replenish fishing stocks. According to the report, fish stocks can increase up to fivefold in marine reserves which have been in existence for five years.
These findings come as recent research reported in the journal Nature reveals that worldwide fisheries have wiped out more than 90 per cent of large fish from the oceans.
The WWF believes that, faced with depleted fish stocks, governments should urgently take measures to expand marine reserves.
"Contrary to those who argue that reducing the area of fishing grounds will worsen the problems affecting fisheries, our study shows that marine reserves are the most powerful tool available to restore stocks of fish, lobster and shellfish," said Callum Roberts, who co-authored the report with Fiona Gell. "While they were once believed to be of value only to non-migrating species and fragile habitats like those of coral reefs, this new evidence makes it clear that we can create effective reserves for almost anywhere that is fished."
The report cites examples from all over the world that adult and young fish are increasingly "spilling-over" from reserves to fishing grounds.
Another key finding of the study is that marine reserves not only benefit nearby artisanal fisheries, but also large scale commercial fisheries like the Georges Bank, off the east coast of the United States.
However, the authors of the study emphasize that marine reserves will not solve fishery problems on their own. They will be most effective when they are used in conjunction with other limits on fishing fleet sizes, fishing gear and the quantity and size of fish catches.
The report concludes that in future reserves must cover up to a third of the oceans if both conservation and fishery goals are to be met. Currently, only 0.01 per cent of the seas and oceans are "off-limits" to fishermen.
"Marine reserves can protect marine species and habitats while allowing us to continue industrial scale fishing", said Dr. Simon Cripps, Director of the WWF’s Endangered Seas Program. "But without a substantial increase in the number of marine protected areas globally, we may not be able to prevent the entire collapse of major industrial fisheries."