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Older Reserves Protect Fish Better

A new Simon Fraser University study warns that marine reserves globally may require up to 15 years of protection before the reserves significantly benefit their fish inhabitants, especially large locally fished species.

SFU biologist Isabelle Côté and scientists Phil Molloy and Ian McLean wanted to investigate widespread discrepancies in the reported effectiveness of marine reserves as fish management and conservation tools.

“As the time required for reserves to ‘start producing’ is critical to the development of management plans and community support, resolving this age effect on a global scale is an important task,” the authors write.

However, their key conclusion that the overall effectiveness of marine reserves in enhancing fish densities improves over time is footnoted by several surprising findings that don’t observe this rule.

The authors add, “The magnitude and speed of responses to protection vary with the extent of fishing pressure nearby as well as with various species attributes. Reserve stakeholders therefore need to have realistic expectations and management plans need to incorporate short-term uncertainty and long-term perspective.”

Through statistical analysis, Côté, Molloy—a former SFU postdoctoral fellow—and McLean—a former student of Côté—distilled the results of 33 studies evaluating marine reserve effectiveness. The previous studies had compared fish populations inside and outside of 32 marine reserves worldwide, aged one to 26 years old. The reserves are off Europe, the western United States and Australia, in the Mediterranean and along the Eastern African and Indo-Pacific coastlines.

The trio’s paper— Effects of marine reserve age on fish populations: a global meta-analysis—reports the results of their broad-scale analysis in a new issue of the Journal of Applied Ecology.

As well as being published in this British-based ecological science journal, the paper is covered in an issue of Science for Environment Policy, a publication of the European Commission’s news alert service.

The Science for Environmental Policy, explains Molloy, “is circulated to thousands of environmental policy makers and resource managers throughout Europe. As a result, this research will likely have a direct impact on future marine policy in Europe.”

Backgrounder: Older Reserves protect fish better

The SFU-generated study Effects of marine reserve age on fish populations: a global meta-analysis doesn’t include any evaluations of Canadian marine reserves. But John Reynolds, an SFU biologist and the Tom Buell B.C. Leadership Chair in Salmon Conservation, predicts Canada will take note of its global significance. 

“These results should provide strong encouragement for the establishment of marine-protected-areas in Canada for the conservation of fisheries and biodiversity,” says Reynolds. “Compared to what exists globally, there are few marine reserves in Canada but there are active efforts to increase their numbers.”

Isabelle Côté, 604.377.5323,
Philip Molloy, 604.827.5141,
John Reynolds, 778.782.3496,
Carol Thorbes, PAMR, 778.782.3035,

Source: Simon Fraser University


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