The blue paradox: Preemptive overfishing in marine reserves

Last modified: 
September 10, 2018 - 8:54am
Type: Journal Article
Year of publication: 2018
Date published: 08/2018
Authors: Grant McDermott, Kyle Meng, Gavin McDonald, Christopher Costello
Journal title: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences
Pages: 201802862
ISSN: 0027-8424

Most large-scale conservation policies are anticipated or announced in advance. This risks the possibility of preemptive resource extraction before the conservation intervention goes into force. We use a high-resolution dataset of satellite-based fishing activity to show that anticipation of an impending no-take marine reserve undermines the policy by triggering an unintended race-to-fish. We study one of the world’s largest marine reserves, the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), and find that fishers more than doubled their fishing effort once this area was earmarked for eventual protected status. The additional fishing effort resulted in an impoverished starting point for PIPA equivalent to 1.5 y of banned fishing. Extrapolating this behavior globally, we estimate that if other marine reserve announcements were to trigger similar preemptive fishing, this could temporarily increase the share of overextracted fisheries from 65% to 72%. Our findings have implications for general conservation efforts as well as the methods that scientists use to monitor and evaluate policy efficacy.

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