IJMS Editor's Choice - Seeking the optimal balance

The latest selected Editor’s Choice article from ICES Journal of Marine Science is now available. Here, read about the trade-off between biodiversity and sustainable fish harvest with area-based management
Published: 17 August 2020

​​A major challenge in sustainable fisheries management is minimizing the impact of fishing on biodiversity. These impacts are most commonly bycatch of non-target species such as marine birds, marine mammals, turtles, and sharks, and fishing impacts on sensitive habitats such as corals, sponges and sea grasses.  Fisheries agencies seek to find the best trade-off between sustainable harvest and biodiversity impact.

Biodiversity impacts of fishing are often area and gear specific, occurring where there are local concentrations of sensitive habitats and bycatch of different species. Sensitive habitats are most impacted by mobile bottom contact gear, and different species tend to be vulnerable to specific gears; e.g. marine birds tend to be particularly vulnerable to trawling and gillnetting.

Concern about biodiversity protection has led to adoption by most nations of the Aichi 11 target of “10 per cent of coastal and marine areas, especially areas of particular importance for biodiversity and ecosystem services, are conserved through effectively and equitably managed, ecologically representative and well-connected systems of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures.”  

In the latest Editor's Choice​​​, the authors explore the extent to which biodiversity can best be protected while allowing for catch using area-based management (regulation of fishing effort by gear and area). No-take MPAs are one form of area-based management where no gear is allowed to be used in some areas. The method used was to find what combination of area specific effort by gear led to the best combination of sustainable catch and biodiversity, trading off weighted values for biodiversity and catch. When all of the weight was assigned to catch, effort was found that was equivalent ​to traditional MSY levels of effort. When all weight was assigned to biodiversity, no catch was allowed.

In the two examples presented in this paper, the authors demonstrate that there are often win-win solutions that allow for high biodiversity protection and high yield. This is achieved by closing the most sensitive areas or the hotspots for bycatch to the most impactful gears. The authors found that complete no-take areas were not commonly part of the optimal solution except when biodiversity was given very high weight and sustainable harvest very low weight. The results suggest that other effective area-based conservation measures may be the best way to preserve marine biodiversity while allowing for sustainable food production.

Read the full paper in ICES Journal of Marine Science.


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​​​Authors: Ray Hilborn, Caitlin Akselrud, ​Henry Peterson, George Whitehouse

Paper: The trade-off between biodiversity and sustainable fish harvest with area-based management
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IJMS Editor's Choice - Seeking the optimal balance

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