One Fish, Two Fish, Big Fish, Better Fish

May 13, 2010

A 12-year study off the coast of Kenya deconstructs old notions of how fishery closures affect local economies. Hint: They help them.

If fish and fishermen were playinga game of tag, fishery closures would be “base” for the fish. Within theclosures, fish could rest and breed before coming out again to play andpossibly, to get caught. Over time, there would be more fish in the game.

This is one of the findings within a new WCS study conducted off the Kenyan coast. There, fishing communities rely on the marine populations of coral reefs in the Indian Ocean. They depend on these fish for food and for income. So keeping the fish populations healthy keeps the communities thriving. But not too surprisingly, fishers often view closures and other fishing restrictions as bad for business.

The study tells a different story.

The research, conducted over 12 years, illustrates how communities benefit financially from areas closed to fishing, as well as from regulations over what type of fishing gear is allowable. In some circumstances, the fishers may be catching less fish, but the types of species they do bring home (bigger and better) may fetch them more money at the market.


“Some valuable species simply cannotstand the level of fishing that occurs and go locally extinct from thefishery—a potentially devastating loss,” says Tim McClanahan, a seniorconservationist for WCS. “But these species indirectly enter the fishery againthrough the closures. Therefore, the fishers benefit from these refuges throughthe recovery of prized species”

The research couldhave profound implications for fisheries management, and potentially profound results forthe conservation of the many marine species that inhabit coral reefs. By "many," I mean everything from sharks to crabs to the coral species themselves.

Fishery closuresare among the best solutions studied to protecting coral reef areas and vitalhabitat for countless species to feed, grow and replenish their numbers. Alongwith wildlife, the restricted areas also grow profits. By examining about27,000 fish caught in three fisheries, the research details how no-fishingareas increased revenue and sometimes, net profits for the fishermen and fisherwomen.

Unfortunately,such closures comprise less than 1 percent of the world’s oceans.

“Evidence indicating that thesemanagement options provide a long-term income and profit boost for individualfishers provides great hope for the world’s oceans and coastal economies,” said Caleb McClennen, WCS's director of marine conservation. “Adisproportionately high percentage of the world’s marine biodiversity issituated adjacent to developing coastal nations, where sustainable economicdevelopment and poverty alleviation are top priorities.”


WCS works to ensure protection of90 percent of tropical coral reef biodiversity by improving conservation ofpriority seascapes in the Caribbean, western Indian Ocean and the CoralTriangle. Critical support for this study was provided by the Tiffany & Co.Foundation, the Western Indian Ocean Marine Science Association, and the WorldBank.  

In the United States, continued reauthorization of the Coral Reef ConservationAct and enhanced coordination and support from multilateral and federalinstitutions—such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration andthe U.S. Agency for International Development—is critical to providingleadership assistance to the most vulnerable human populations in implementinginnovative programs to address coastal poverty, the loss of marinebiodiversity, and the imperative to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

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