Designing MPAs for food security in open-access fisheries
Food security remains a principal challenge in the developing tropics where communities rely heavily on marine-based protein. While some improvements in fisheries management have been made in these regions, a large fraction of coastal fisheries remain unmanaged, mismanaged, or use only crude input controls. These quasi-open-access conditions often lead to severe overfishing, depleted stocks, and compromised food security. A possible fishery management approach in these institution-poor settings is to implement fully protected marine protected areas (MPAs). Although the primary push for MPAs has been to solve the conservation problems that arise from mismanagement, MPAs can also benefit fisheries beyond their borders. The literature has not completely characterized how to design MPAs under diverse ecological and economic conditions when food security is the objective. We integrated four key biological and economic variables (i.e., fish population growth rate, fish mobility, fish price, and fishing cost) as well as an important aspect of reserve design (MPA size) into a general model and determined their combined influence on food security when MPAs are implemented in an open-access setting. We explicitly modeled open-access conditions that account for the behavioral response of fishers to the MPA; this approach is distinct from much of the literature that focuses on assumptions of “scorched earth” (i.e., severe over-fishing), optimized management, or an arbitrarily defined fishing mortality outside the MPA’s boundaries. We found that the MPA size that optimizes catch depends strongly on economic variables. Large MPAs optimize catch for species heavily harvested for their high value and/or low harvesting cost, while small MPAs or no closure are best for species lightly harvested for their low value and high harvesting cost. Contrary to previous theoretical expectations, both high and low mobility species are expected to experience conservation benefits from protection, although, as shown previously, greater conservation benefits are expected for low mobility species. Food security benefits from MPAs can be obtained from species of any mobility. Results deliver both qualitative insights and quantitative guidance for designing MPAs for food security in open-access fisheries.