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Marine Protected areas as a tool for ecosystem conservation and fisheries management

Final Report Summary - PROTECT (Marine protected areas as a tool for ecosystem conservation and fisheries management)

The objectives of the project PROTECT were:
- to evaluate the potential of MPAs as a tool in fisheries management and protection of sensitive species, habitats and ecosystems from the effects of fishing;
- to outline a suite of scientifically based monitoring, assessment and evaluation tools for assessing the impact of MPAs on fisheries and marine ecosystems; and
- to assess the effect of different levels of protection, including the impact and socio-economic effects of MPAs on fishing communities.

These objectives have, through a number of work packages, been applied to three different regional MPA case studies, each representing a different ecosystem type and underlying reason for MPA establishment:
- The Baltic Sea case study is an illustration of the use of closures to regulate a fishery on a fish population that is extremely dependent on environmental conditions (i.e. Baltic cod Gadus morhua). It is also an example of the use of closed areas to protect a migratory, TAC-regulated fish stock that is under intense fishing pressure, and where the analysis of displacement of fishing effort (in time and / or space) from the closed area is a crucial factor when predicting whether or not the MPA will meet its goals.
- The North Sea sandeel case study is an example where a fishery may be regulated through spatial closures, both for the conservation of the fish stock and for the benefit of other parts of the ecosystem (in these cases birds and other predators on sandeels and other fish species). The sandeel work also includes an illustration of how to design a network of dynamic MPAs of limited sizes, the configuration of which is altered from year to year on the basis of environmental monitoring. It also shows how connectivity among MPAs can be operationally analysed.
- The deep-water coral case study is an example of MPA creation where biodiversity conservation is the main goal but where the MPA will simultaneously have an influence on some fish populations and fisheries. This study is also an example of the legal, practical and economic challenges of establishing MPAs in offshore areas.

MPAs have in recent years moved from the world of science and advocacy to the global political arena. However, MPAs have come to mean different things to different people, based primarily on the level of protection provided by the MPA. Some see MPAs as sheltered or reserved areas where little, if any, uses or human disturbance are permitted. Others see them as specially managed areas designed to enhance ocean use and exploitation. Correspondingly, a broad variety of definitions exist for MPAs, causing some confusion among e.g. policy makers regarding the relevance of MPAs for their respective sectors.

For the purpose of PROTECT, the following definition has been adopted: An MPA represents any marine area set aside under legislation or other effective means to protect marine values (marine values referring to e.g. conservation, commercial, scientific, recreational, cultural and aesthetic).

The use of MPAs as tools for ecosystem conservation and fisheries management is a multifaceted task that requires integration and synergies between different scientific disciplines as well as integration between sectors. However, management of the European marine environment and its living resources is sectorally divided and largely determined by central directives and policies stemming from the European Union, such as the 'habitats directive' and the 'common fisheries policy'.

Fishing activity taking place in the majority of European waters is regulated through the EU's Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). In addition to e.g. the setting of catch limits for respective commercial species, the CFP is responsible for development and implementation of technical measures such as MPAs (which in fisheries terms are usually referred to as fisheries closures, boxes, etc.). Such closures have been implemented for a number of reasons, most commonly as a means to protect spawning or nursery areas and, more recently, to protect sensitive habitats such as deep water coral reefs from damage caused by fishing. However, most of these area closures have had limited success, if success has at all been measurable given lacking baseline studies, focused monitoring etc.

Developments are currently taking place in the context of the European Union, the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organisation (NAFO) as well as the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) to protect sensitive habitats and species in the high seas. These developments have much relevance especially for the PROTECT coral reef case study described in this report.

Furthermore, a communication released in 2008 by DG MARE underlines the commitment of the 'common fisheries policy' to the progressive implementation of a precautionary, ecosystem approach to fisheries management through a reduction in fishing pressure and by ensuring that fisheries policy is fully coherent with and supportive of the actions taken under the European environmental directives.

As a result of these increasingly common high-level calls and initiatives to protect marine habitats and species as well as fish populations, MPAs are moving more and more from the world of marine science towards the centre stage in international marine policy. Projects such as PROTECT are therefore important to ensure a solid science-base for development of these MPAs and to bridge the gaps between science and policy.

As is clearly evident in the case study descriptions and the results of PROTECT work, no two marine areas are alike regarding their legal, political and societal setting, ecology or corresponding patterns of utilisation of marine resources. As a consequence, no two MPAs will ever be alike, and there exists no quick fix for MPA site selection, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation. The necessity to tailor MPA approaches to a given site becomes crystal clear from the very beginning in the development of goals, objectives, indicators and success criteria for a given MPA and is ubiquitous throughout the entire process of site selection, monitoring, evaluation, etc. What may initially seem intuitive becomes a challenge once the MPA evolves from being conceptual to something operational and measurable for which society has high expectations.

Many lessons have been learned in the PROTECT project that apply to the three case study sites and these have been listed at the end of each case study section. However, many lessons have been learned that can be lifted to a more generic level and applied in relation to MPAs elsewhere:
- The use of 'Goals-objectives-indicators-success' (GOIS) tables within PROTECT has proven very insightful.
- Clearly stated goals and objectives will be cost-efficient.
- Size is not everything. Proper site selection is.
- MPA design should be adapted to the life cycles and migratory behaviour of the target species.
- MPA boundaries may need to be 'adaptive' as species distributions change with time.
- The fishery benefits of MPAs are not guaranteed.
- There is no single monitoring strategy that is appropriate for all kinds of MPAs.
- The PROTECT case studies have demonstrated the difficulty but also some methods to disentangle the effects of a closure and environmental change.
- A weak point in all case studies is the lack of monitoring of socio-economic effects.
- Modelling can assist in the analysis of both planned and existing MPAs.
- The experimental design of MPA studies must be improved.
- Models must be realistic.
- Input data for the models is still a problem, but there are solutions.
- PROTECT has demonstrated the value of economic approaches to the design and implementation of MPAs.
- A choice experiment revealed widespread public support for the creation of MPAs for the protection of Irish deep-water corals.