Marine Science Faculty Publications

Vertical Zoning in Marine Protected Areas: Ecological Considerations for Balancing Pelagic Fishing with Conservation of Benthic Communities

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Marine protected areas (MPAs), ideally, manage human uses that threaten ecosystems, or components of ecosystems. During several recent MPA designation processes, concerns have arisen over the scientific justification for no-take MPAs, particularly those that restrict recreational fishing for pelagic species. An important question is: under what conditions might recreational pelagic fishing be compatible with the conservation goals of an MPA that is primarily focused on benthic communities? In 2005, an expert workshop of fisheries biologists, marine ecologists, MPA managers, and recreational fishermen was convened by NOAA's National MPA Center to evaluate the limited empirical data on benthic-pelagic coupling and to help provide practical advice on this topic. The participants (i) proposed a preliminary conceptual framework for addressing vertical zoning, (ii) developed preliminary guidelines to consider when evaluating whether to allow or restrict pelagic fishing in an MPA, and (iii) identified future research priorities for understanding benthic-pelagic coupling. A suite of ecological conditions where recreational pelagic fishing may not be compatible with benthic conservation were identified: (1) high relief habitats, (2) depths shallower than 50–100 m (depending upon the specific location), (3) major topographic and oceanographic features, and (4) spawning areas. Similarly, pelagic fishing is not likely to affect benthic communities adversely in many circumstances. Until further scientific study can shed more light on the issue of how benthic-pelagic linkages affect specific conservation targets, the proposed framework in this manuscript provides practical, easily-applied guidance for using vertical zoning to manage fishing in multiple use MPAs that focus on benthic conservation.

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Fisheries, v. 33, issue 12, p. 598-610