According to NOAA’s new study on the Tortugas Ecological Reserve, located in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, protecting fish is in everyone’s best interest.
The 151-square nautical mile reserve was established in 2001 to protect overfished species. According to Science Daily, the protections have boosted fish populations, with bigger and more abundant yellowtail, mutton snapper and black and red grouper appearing within the reserve. These results are consistent with findings marine reserves around the world, which find again and again that the size, abundance and diversity of marine life increase inside fully protected marine reserves.
The biggest news for resource managers, however, is the socioeconomic implications. The new study finds that commercial catches of reef fish in the region have increased along with the fish population increases, and that neither commercial nor recreational fishermen have experienced financial loss as a result of the reserve.
Sean Morton, sanctuary superintendent, told Science Daily:
“This research shows that marine reserves and economically viable fishing industries can coexist/ The health of our economy is tied to the health of our oceans. They are not mutually exclusive.”
This is good news for California, where extensive collaboration between commercial and recreational fishermen, divers, scientists and conservationists recently resulted in the completion of a statewide network of marine protected areas, including fully protected reserves. This study provides an encouraging outlook for the ability of marine protected areas to boost fish populations, while also benefitting local fishing communities.
Later this month, a symposium in Monterey, CA will gather scientists, resource managers and stakeholders to share research and baseline monitoring results on the Central Coast marine protected areas that have been in place for five years. We are hopeful that early findings will suggest similar success for both fish and fishermen.