[Coral-List] Habitat Restoration and MPA's as prime focus of Fisheries Mgt

David Fisk davefisk at gmail.com
Sat Apr 19 14:20:05 EDT 2008

I am responding in part to Tom Goreau's recent comments that included the
claim of restoration should be the main focus for degraded reef fisheries. I
keep hearing this assertion regarding restoration and its benefits, but I
wonder if others have differing opinions on this like I do. I have worked in
various capacities on a number of MPA development and reef restoration
projects and studies from the early 1980's (including recent years in
Pacific Island countries) and have yet to see or hear of any real success
stories with restoration projects, however success may be defined. It has
been my experience that restoration methods by and large, are indeed the
classic case of throwing good money after bad, except for really specific
cases where tourism interests, high value small areas, or education are the
prime aims of the restoration.

I think that there is a very different approach required when dealing with
fisheries restoration in underdeveloped verses developed countries, with the
former having a high percentage of stakeholders in the subsistence category.
Some points that Tom raised are the real issues with respect to enhancing
fisheries in either situation (outside the obvious catch quotas, seasonal
closures, and other people-management approaches). These are : MPA's are
only going to be successful if they include all the necessary prime habitat
for replenishment (from spawning to recruitment and juvenile phases), and
that juvenile fisheries species (fish and inverts) in general terms, need
structural complexity for protection and a chance to develop into breeding
adults. Of course, highly productive areas with these two features are
usually going to be much better in terms of recovery and resilience to
disturbance as well.

I share Tom's view that the current reef management MPA focus (particularly
Community Based MPA projects) do not really take sufficient care to consider
the importance of these critical essential requirements in their designs.
This is because the predominantly subsistence communities making these
decisions have a very small margin for making short to moderate term
sacrifices for greater longer term gains. That is, their prime habitat is
most likely also their primary food source areas. More success will be
possible if these communities introduce behavioural changes and instigate
measures to reduce the impact of modern technologies. A big concern for me
is the use of gill nets in major aggregation, passage ways, and spawning
sites as an example of a modern technology that is wreaking havoc amongst
many quite remote and even low human population reef areas of the world.

Nevertheless, I really have my doubts that any of the reef restoration
methods that have been trialled to date will offer the required ecological
features at a practical scale for any lasting effect on fisheries yields.
The recurring problem is that reefs that are usually chosen as targets for
restoration efforts usually have more serious disturbance factors that have
to be dealt with before a restoration project has any real chance of
success. Even the much promoted electrical reef systems are only really
offering some measure of structural complexity, and this is not a new idea
as wrecks and some artifical reefs have always offered that feature.
Developing mangrove systems on a large scale may be one of the few
'restoration' approaches that could work, however, along with measures that
are yet to be developed and field tested, that may enhance natural reef
recovery processes.

David Fisk

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