Marine Protected Areas: A Central Debate of 21st Century Fishing

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Earth Journalism Network, Washingon, DC

There are some in the marine conservation community that believe that no matter how much fishing is controlled and how well quotas are managed, large portions of the ocean still need to be set aside as marine protected areas, or MPA as they have come to be called. Industrial fishing techniques such as bottom trawling damage marine habitats and it can take many years for a trawled environment to recover. MPAs and other forms of protection currently encompass less than 2 percent of the ocean. But there is now emerging a substantial global marine protected area movement. This is particularly notable in the Pacific where recently large tracts of the ocean have received new protected status around island nations in the last ten years There is also a growing movement to protect a large area of the Ross Sea in the Antarctic as a marine protected area.

One of the key things that MPAs accomplish is the protection of the largest spawning females. “Big Old Fat Female Fish” or “BOFFF’s” as fisheries scientists call the biggest, older breeders, lay exponentially more eggs than smaller individuals and preservation of these larger fish is typically very difficult in environments that are heavily fished.

While embraced by conservationists around the world, the fishing industry has historically opposed MPAs and some fisheries scientists like the University of Washington’s Ray Hilborn assert that there are significant downsides to the implementation of MPAs. This debate is likely to be a key one for journalists to track in the years ahead.