Evaluating socio-economic and conservation impacts of management: A case study of time-area closures on Georges Bank
Globally, economies and marine ecosystems are increasingly dependent on sustainable fisheries management (SFM) to balance social, economic, and conservation needs. The overarching objectives of SFM are to maximize both conservation and socio-economic benefits, while minimizing short-term socio-economic costs. A number of tools have been developed to achieve SFM objectives, ranging from fishery specific to ecosystem-based strategies. Closures are a common SFM tool used to balance the trade-off between socio-economic and conservation considerations; they vary in scope from small-scale temporary closures to large-scale permanent networks. Unfortunately, closures are frequently implemented without a plan for monitoring or assessing whether SFM objectives are met. In situations in which a monitoring plan is not in place we propose that commonly available fishery data can often be used to evaluate whether management tools are effective in meeting SFM objectives. Here, we present a case study of closures on Georges Bank that shows how fishery data can be analyzed to perform such an assessment. Since 2006, on the Canadian side of Georges Bank, seasonal scallop fishery closures have been implemented with the aim of reducing by-catch of Atlantic cod (Gadus morhua) and yellowtail flounder (Pleuronectes ferruginea) during spawning. In lieu of data from a dedicated monitoring program, we analyzed data from Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS), fishery logbooks, and a scallop survey to assess the impact of these closures on the scallop fishery, and use observer data (i.e. by-catch) to assess the effectiveness of these closures in meeting their conservation objective. While compliance for these time-area closures was high, the closures did not significantly displace fishing activity and overall there was limited evidence of an impact on the scallop fishery. Further, the discard rates for both cod and yellowtail were above average when their respective closures were active. These results suggest that improvements to the closures design and/or other measures may be required to achieve the desired SFM objectives.