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The September 2000 issue of MPA News featured an article on the concept of rotating closed areas: that is, alternately closing and re-opening areas to fishing, allowing time for stocks to rebuild after each open season. With managers and researchers around the world beginning to consider the idea, it could represent an emerging trend in fisheries management.

MPA News asked readers to comment on the idea. Below, we've printed three of the letters we received. The first is from Graham Edgar, who was quoted in the September article.

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In 1984 when Rod Salm and John Clark wrote the first edition of their textbook Marine and Coastal Protected Areas: A Guide for Planners and Managers, they didn't expect they might still be working on it 16 years later. Yet that edition sold out, as did a second edition in 1989, and with demand for the book remaining high through the 1990s Salm and Clark agreed last year to undertake a third edition.

That edition -- with major revisions to reflect the past decade of developments in MPA practice -- is now available. It is worthwhile reading for practitioners looking for a basic handbook or refresher course, particularly in tropical MPAs.

Thanks to the cover of its original 1984 version, the guide has become known as the "Orange Book". The cover of the new edition is now predominantly blue, but the book's target audience has remained the same: people who find themselves with mandates to plan an MPA or system of MPAs, and who need some basic ideas and approaches to guide them.

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The field of MPA planning and management may still be young, but its collective body of knowledge is growing quickly, through academic journals, textbooks, conferences, and workshops. Nonetheless, familiarity with the concept of MPAs among other stakeholders -- including policymakers, fishers, and the general public -- is relatively low. While practitioners discuss topics such as mooring buoy placement or self-financing schemes, many in the general public remain unaware that "marine protected areas" even exist.

This month, MPA News examines how various practitioners are attempting to raise public awareness of MPAs for an array of purposes.

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In Mexico, a new law has incorporated legal tools to allow the establishment of no-take zones in the country's marine and freshwater bodies, in wetlands, and within the 20-meter federal coastal zone. The General Wildlife Law, passed by Congress in July 2000, has the effect of balancing federal fishery regulations set in 1999, which implemented a predominantly production-centered view of Mexico's marine resources.

Under the General Wildlife Law, the Secretariat of the Environment, Natural Resources and Fisheries (SEMARNAP) may now establish what are called "aquatic species protection areas" -- no-take zones, essentially. These areas may be established to protect:

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Home to hundreds of terrestrial and marine species found nowhere else in the world, the small Yemeni archipelago of Socotra has a new zoning plan that integrates the protection of its land and sea environments. Developed through the cooperative efforts of international experts and local stakeholders, the plan aims to ensure the health of Socotra's biologically significant ecosystems while allowing residents to preserve their traditional resource rights against outsiders.

The plan features new protected areas, on land and in coastal waters. Although the concept of "protected area" is still relatively new to residents of the isolated archipelago, the idea of resource protection is not, said Ed Zandri, director of the project. "What we have done is to merge traditional conservation practices with modern concepts and techniques," said Zandri. "The main objective has been to preserve and strengthen the existing balance between people and nature."

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The consumptive use of wild species is an important aspect of the relationship between humans and the marine environment. For consumption to be sustainable, its conditions must be consistent with conservation.

As one way of fostering those conditions, the concept of rotating closed areas -- alternately closing and re-opening areas to fishing, allowing time for stocks to rebuild after each open season -- has gained the recent attention of some fisheries managers. In the northeastern US scallop fishery, for example, areas that have been closed for half a decade were re-opened this summer for huge catches; the fishery's managers are now considering re-opening the areas every 3-4 years. With managers and researchers elsewhere considering the idea, this could be an emerging trend in fisheries management.

A closed area of the ocean -- even one re-opened cyclically for fishing -- fits most definitions of "marine protected area," including that of the IUCN (MPA News 1:4). The idea of re-opening a closed area to fishing may be unacceptable to conservationists who favor permanently closed areas for the protection of biodiversity. But some managers suggest that such re-openings could be a way of securing buy-in from the fishing industry on the use of various kinds of MPAs.

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Spurred by concerns that many MPA managers are insufficiently trained to provide effective resource protection, two projects on opposite sides of the world have begun preparing practitioners to handle the challenges of planning and management. Organized in the Caribbean and the Western Indian Ocean, the capacity-building projects have combined classroom-style lecture courses with discussions, field trips, and networking opportunities. [For a description of project funders and organizers, see box at end of article.]

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Often, the reasons for establishing a marine protected area are to protect a resource or ecosystem while providing various social and economic benefits, among them increased fishery catches. As more MPAs are designated around the world, the ability to evaluate the effectiveness of these areas in meeting their policy objectives becomes increasingly important.

Jackie Alder of Edith Cowan University (Australia) has suggested that there is an urgent need for useful approaches capable of measuring MPA performance. In a paper she co-authored and delivered last month at the "Economics of MPAs" conference in Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada), Alder stated, "An assumption underlying the growing support for MPAs is that they meet conservation goals and provide economic benefits, such as to fisheries and ecotourism. However, continued support for MPAs will be at risk if managers cannot assess whether multidisciplinary objectives are being fulfilled."

To serve this need for an evaluative technique, Alder is exploring one approach, called Rapfish. Short for "Rapid Appraisal for the Status of Fisheries," Rapfish was originally developed at the Fisheries Centre of the University of British Columbia for evaluating the sustainability of fisheries. Alder has adapted it to evaluate MPA performance, and says it holds promise as a tool for managers to score their MPAs' performance quickly and across disciplines.

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The economic study of no-take marine reserves is evolving. Ten years ago, economists largely examined such reserves from the vantage of the fishing industry, and were generally skeptical of their justification. Now, armed with models that are increasingly informed by fish stock biology and concerns about uncertainty, economists are forging a new understanding of the economic and societal values involved in the practice of reserves.

Experts gathered last month in Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada), to discuss new trends in the study of marine-reserve economics. The conference, "Economics of Marine Protected Areas," sponsored by the Fisheries Centre of the University of British Columbia, offered insights for MPA practitioners on how economists are viewing the field. Several of these insights could assist planners and managers in their work.

MPA News

Dear Reader,

This issue marks the first anniversary of MPA News. Launched last July at the Coastal Zone '99 conference in San Diego, California, USA, the newsletter now has subscribers on six continents, in 54 countries. Your fellow readers include the leaders of national MPA programs, international NGOs, and major fishing organizations, as well as news media, academics, and other interested individuals.

On behalf of the staff and editorial board of MPA News, I want to thank you for the positive support that has allowed the newsletter to grow as it has, with little advertising on our part.