Marine Reserves Found to Boost Nearby Fishing Grounds

December 4, 2001

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In 1995, the people of the Caribbean island of St. Lucia had grown alarmed by local fish harvests that were so paltry they could barely sustain their families. In a desperate effort to revive the overexploited reefs, they created a marine reserve and banned fishing in 35 percent of their fishing grounds.

Today, the people are reaping the rewards of their gamble as they watch their catch sizes double and triple in waters neighboring the sanctuary.

"When we went there in 1994, the fishermen could spend several hours rowing to a fishing spot—a whole day on the water—and catch barely a handful of fish," said marine conservation biologist Callum Roberts of the University of York in the United Kingdom. "It was hardly worth the effort."

Roberts and his colleagues studied the marine reserve bordering St. Lucia and one in Florida to determine the impacts on neighboring fisheries. The results showed that the creation of marine sanctuaries significantly increased both fish yields and the size of fish in surrounding areas.

The St. Lucians' decision to set aside 35 percent of their fishing grounds—creating the Soufrière Marine Management Area—was locally contentious. But although the first two years were particularly tough, local fishermen are now reaping the benefits of the reserve. With the fisheries replenished, they are enjoying the spillover, with much higher harvests than before the reserve was established even though there are fewer regions to fish, said Roberts.

The increase in fish stocks and habitat recovery within marine reserves has been well documented. Until now, however, the impact of such reserves on surrounding fisheries had not been evaluated. Roberts believes his study, which is published in the November 30 issue of the journal Science, provides this link.

Record Catches

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