A meta-analysis of the value of marine protected areas for pelagic apex predators
A vast range of theoretical and empirical studies now suggests that MPAs can conserve marine biodiversity and, under some circumstances, increase fishery yields. However, despite the importance of pelagic apex predators to ecosystem function, the effectiveness of spatial management for the conservation of pelagic apex predator species is still unknown. I used fishery-dependent logbook and observer datasets to assess fishing effort and both the catch and size of pelagic apex predator species around five different MPAs. The US Hawaii-based deep-set or Atlantic pelagic longline fisheries fish the waters around these MPAs; both of these fisheries have experienced multiple management measures over time to protect species and maximize fishery yield. The MPAs selected for this study range in size, age, level of protection, and reason for establishment. I found that only two MPAs of the five appeared to be benefitting the pelagic apex predator species that I selected: the DeSoto Canyon and East Florida Coast MPAs, both in the Atlantic Ocean. The size of yellowfin tuna around the DeSoto Canyon MPA borders has increased over time, as has fishing effort. In contrast, the size of swordfish has decreased near the boundary of the East Florida Coast MPA, although the catch of swordfish has increased. The increase in catch of smaller swordfish was not a surprise because the East Florida Coast MPA was established around an area that is a nursery habitat for swordfish. These results are promising for the use of static MPAs for the conservation of pelagic apex predators, but three of the MPAs in my study did not show any indication of increased fishing effort, increased catch, or changes in pelagic apex predator size near their boundaries over time. Therefore, the characteristics of the DeSoto Canyon and East Florida Coast MPAs may provide a template for how to best design new MPAs for pelagic apex predators. Both of these MPAs were established with the specific intent of reducing pelagic apex predator bycatch, in areas where there were historically high catch rates. Both areas are relatively large (> 85,000 km2) and are also closed year-round. In combination, these characteristics may provide protection for pelagic apex predators.