Tracking the Response of Industrial Fishing Fleets to Large Marine Protected Areas in the Pacific Ocean
White, T.D., Ong, T., Ferretti, F., Block, B.A., McCauley, D.J., Micheli, F. and De Leo, G.A.(2020) Tracking the response of industrial fishing fleets to large marine protected areas in the Pacific Ocean. Conservation Biology.
Large marine protected areas (MPAs) of unprecedented size have recently been established across the global oceans, yet their ability to meet conservation objectives is debated. Key areas of debate include uncertainty over nations’ abilities to enforce fishing bans across vast, remote regions and the intensity of human impacts before and after MPA implementation. We used a recently developed vessel tracking data set (produced using Automatic Identification System detections) to quantify the response of industrial fishing fleets to 5 of the largest MPAs established in the Pacific Ocean since 2013. After their implementation, all 5 MPAs successfully kept industrial fishing effort exceptionally low. Detected fishing effort was already low in 4 of the 5 large MPAs prior to MPA implementation, particularly relative to nearby regions that did not receive formal protection. Our results suggest that these large MPAs may present major conservation opportunities in relatively intact ecosystems with low immediate impact to industrial fisheries, but the large MPAs we considered often did not significantly reduce fishing effort because baseline fishing was typically low. It is yet to be determined how large MPAs may shape global ocean conservation in the future if the footprint of human influence continues to expand. Continued improvement in understanding of how large MPAs interact with industrial fisheries is a crucial step toward defining their role in global ocean management.