[Coral-List] Half-earth: our planet's fight for life

Douglas Fenner douglasfennertassi at gmail.com
Fri Mar 18 23:45:22 EDT 2016


    Hilborn opposes MPAs.  Coral reef fisheries and MPAs (Marine Protected
Areas) are complicated, there are many issues, which are often not spelled
out.  A blanket rejection, like Hilborn likes to make, may be popular among
fisheries people, but does not reflect the complications very well.  The
following is long, don't read it unless this topic interests you.

      There are lots of variations on Marine Protected Areas, from strict
no-takes to "marine managed areas" which have some kind of ‘management’
without necessarily being completely closed all the time.

      Hilborn is an acknowledged expert on fisheries, and is concerned with
maximizing long term fish catch.  We have 7 billion people and rising, and
it takes a lot to feed that many people.  Humans use a large portion of the
total production of all of the world's ecosystems.  But fisheries
management often doesn’t work very well.  Canada had world class fishery
experts when fishers were allowed to overfish cod to the point that they
collapsed, losing a $2 billion a year fishery, which still hasn't recovered
decades later.  Hilborn shows signs of irritation at the repetition of such
stories, calling them the "litany."  He complains that people still refer
to papers that reported that the world's big predatory fish (like tuna and
cod) are 80% depleted, which he says was not based on strong science (it
was not a standard stock assessment).  He has joined with those who have
more conservationist views to review the large fisheries of the world in a
paper by Worm, Hilborn, et al in Science, which found that there were
fisheries that are overfished, others that are fully fished, others are in
recovery, and so on, some in all categories.  Other recent papers have
pointed out that the number of fisheries that are not fully fished is
dwindling to near nothing, and a recent paper by Pauly presents data
showing that the total world fish catch has been declining.  Hilborn and
others point out that MPAs work best on fish species that are sedentary,
and doesn't explicitly say it, but that means that his criticisms of MPA's
are not so relevant to coral reefs, where most fish species are relatively
sedentary.  The main exception being sharks, which do range over larger
distances, and which on pristine reefs are usually around half of the
biomass, so not a minor consideration.

What coral reef people have not emphasized until recently is that different
reef fish species have home ranges that vary greatly in size, and a
one-size-fits-all approach of a single MPA size may fit one set of species
but doesn't for another.  So one size MPA doesn't protect all sizes of home
ranges, except for very large MPAs, much larger than almost all coral reef
MPAs.  From a fisheries perspective, large MPAs have a much larger area
than needed to protect the sedentary fish well enough to produce spillover
and egg subsidy, yet because they are so large they don't have much
boundary compared to area, and so spillover is much less than could be with
smaller MPAs, and it removes a very large area from fishermen and reduces
their catch greatly and makes them have to fish in places that may be more
dangerous.  For coral reefs in developing countries, the fishermen are
usually very poor and if they don’t catch fish their family goes hungry.
MPAs help insure that the last fish don’t get removed and can act as
natural fish farms to sustain local fishermen.

Hilborn et al are mainly concerned with temperate and pelagic fisheries.
Those are, after all, where the big money is made.  (Never mind that no one
would starve if tuna or cod were no longer in western stores, but if coral
reef fish suddenly disappeared, 10's of millions of people in tropical
countries would be facing starvation.  The value of coral reef fisheries is
not in cash money, but in nutrition for people near the edge of
starvation.  Total world catch of coral reef fish by weight is a major part
of world fisheries as well.)  The more mobile a fish species is, the larger
the MPA area needed, and when the MPA area is fitted to the mobility of the
fish, it has the potential to work as well with mobile species as a small
MPA works for sedentary species.

Hilborn and friends don't point that out, except to say that even the giant
MPA's that close entire EEZ's (Exclusive Economic Zones) aren't big enough
to protect tuna, which are "highly migratory."  Well, the giant MPAs ARE
big enough to protect skipjack tuna, which don't move farther than that in
their lives, but likely not for bluefin tuna, which go vast distances.
Point is, there is an MPA size that will fit any species, but not all
species at once.

     As far as I know, Ray Hilborn evaluates MPAs based on whether they
increase or decrease fish catch.  Fish catch is just one value.  What about
other values, like conservation values, making sure that species cannot be
fished to commercial, ecological, or biological extinction, or preserving
sections of intact ecosystem in an attempt to make sure that not every
ecosystem is damaged (one of the goals of national parks on land)?  Modern
economic evaluations include "non-use values" too, and their total is quite
large.  Not mentioned by fisheries people.  Since coral reefs are so
beautiful and charismatic, they have another value, tourism (which is a
much larger industry globally than fisheries).  Australia makes more money
of its coral reefs than the value of the entire Pacific's tuna industry,
and Australia makes much more money off of its reefs from tourism than from
fisheries.  Coral reef tourism is a huge part of the economies of Caribbean
islands, Florida, Palau, and many other places.

     Most coral reefs are in poor countries that can't afford stock
assessments.  Stock assessments are so expensive they've only been done 3
times on coral reefs to my knowledge.  But MPAs don't require them.  Just
find a place where the people will let you close off an area of reef to
fishing, and do it, and there will probably be spillover and egg subsidy
benefits to fishermen.  It's easy to show recovery of fish within an MPA,
harder to demonstrate spillover and egg subsidy (but both have been clearly
demonstrated in some places), and hardest to prove that the total fish
catch is greater after MPA establishment than before.  If fisheries are the
only value, then not all MPAs may work.  But that's NOT why we implement
MPAs.  We implement MPAs because they are a good conservation tool.  We
want fisheries benefits because the people that live in the area will
likely only accept closures if they receive some kind of benefit, in fish
catch or tourism or something else, and because we don't want people
starving to death.

      And in some cases, like the famous Apo Island in the Philippines, the
fishermen say that they get more fish now that they have an MPA, and are
its strongest defenders.

     Hilborn and others commonly say that MPAs are not a panacea, they do
not protect against land based pollution, global warming, acidification,
plastics, etc etc.  That is correct, as many before him have pointed out.
Condemning antibiotics for not curing blindness is not exactly a fair

      Hilborn to my knowledge has never acknowledged that MPAs are so
popular on coral reefs in large part because conventional fisheries
management has been such a failure there.  (Maybe because Hilborn hasn't
been concerned with coral reef fisheries for the most part.)  But fishing
has damaged coral reefs in a variety of other ways besides overfishing,
such as greatly reducing large predators, herbivore populations, and
leaving some reefs with nothing but the smallest of fish.  To reject MPAs
out of hand, like some do, is to leave fisheries and coral reefs without
one of the tools that are needed to protect reefs and improve fisheries.

Hilborn also supports rights-based fishery, though he says that some
systems work better than others.  In a recent essay, a number of problems
were pointed out with rights-based fisheries.  The essay argues that annual
catch limits do much more to prevent overfishing than rights-based

      Of course, fishermen almost always oppose any restrictions or
regulations.  The pressure is constant and heavy to not add restrictions
and to loosen existing restrictions.  If the evidence indicates that a
stock is overfished, there is huge foot-dragging pressure from fishermen to
put off doing anything about it as long as possible, and to require
mountains of proof that regulation is needed, while the minute there is the
slightest evidence that the stock is recovering, they want to open it up
immediately.   But the business of business is to make money, not worry
about the environment, and maximizing the bottom line in the near future is
often the goal of business.

     The world's fisheries are heavily subsidized, billions of dollars,
which makes unprofitable fishing profitable.  But subsidies distort the
economy and make it less efficient and profitable and can make the country
as a whole poorer.

      People differ on their time horizons, though if you offer people a
choice between an amount of money right now and the same amount in the
future, they will choose to take it now.  The central problem in fisheries
management is to keep the ever increasing efficiency, power, and amount of
fishing from wiping out the ability to sustainably harvest the sea.

     I'll list some references below.

     Cheers,  Doug

Hilborn, R. Marine Protected Areas miss the boat.  Science 2015, 350, 1325.

Allison GW, Lubchenco J, Carr MH  (1998)  Marine reserves are necessary but
not sufficient for marine conservation.  Ecol Appl 8(1) Supplement: S79-S92

Kaiser, M.J.  2005.  Are marine protected areas a red herring or a
fisheries panacea?  Can. J. Fish. Aquat. Sci. 62: 1194-1199.

Hilborn, R. Faith-based fisheries. Fisheries 2006, 31, 554–555.

Pauly, D. Beyond duplicity and ignorance in global fisheries. Sci. Mar.
2009, 73, 215–224.

Rust, S.  2016. System turns US fishing rights into commodity, squeezes
small fishermen.


Worm, B.; Hilborn, R.; Baum, J.K.; Branch, T.A.; Collie, J.S.; Costello,
C.; Fogarty, M.J.; Fulton, E.A.; Hutchings, J.A.; Jennings, S.; et al.
Rebuilding global fisheries. Science 2009, 325, 578–585.

Kurlansky, M.  1998.  Cod.  A biography of the fish that changed the world.

Pauly, D., Zeller, D.  2016.  Catch reconstructions reveal that global
marine fisheries are higher than reported and declining.  Nature
Communications.  DOI: 10.1038/ncomms10244.  Open-access.

Fenner, D. 2012.  Challenges for managing fisheries on diverse coral
reefs.  Diversity 4(1): 105-160.   http://www.mdpi.com/1424-2818/4/1/105

On Mon, Mar 7, 2016 at 11:45 AM, Magnus Johnson <m.johnson at hull.ac.uk>

> Hi David,
> All good points and yes I want to read the book too.  I like Hilborn
> because he is often right and he is one of few willing to stick their neck
> out and remind folks that there is another side to the story.  Re the point
> you raise about the 50% and people live there, read Dowie's book
> "Conservation Refugees".
> Also worth reading for another perspective is the stuff from The
> Breakthrough Institute, http://thebreakthrough.org/  (I don't agree with
> all of it but it's thought provoking)
> cheers, Magnus
> www.marine-biology.net
> ________________________________________
> From: David Evans [davidjevans1818 at yahoo.com]
> Sent: 07 March 2016 19:29
> To: Coral List
> Subject: Re: Half-earth: our planet's fight for life
> Hi Magnus, All,
> I also certainly respect EO Wilson's work and invaluable perspective on
> science, nature, and our human relation to each of those.
> I have not yet read his book, but it certainly looks interesting and
> worthwhile.
> I think the issue, especially with Hilborn's critique, may be a factor of
> jumping the gun a bit on what he has laid out in his book. It seems that
> Ray's critique is based primarily on the interview piece in the New York
> Times.. I respect Ray Hilborn as well, but I know he approaches the
> conservation question from a sustainable fishery management perspective,
> which I do think is also valuable. I just think that relaying the broader
> concepts that it sounds like Wilson is trying to highlight is difficult to
> relay in an interview. I'm willing to wait for the book to draw conclusions.
> I listened to an interview on Public Radio's Science Friday (March 6) and
> was intrigued especially when a caller (a field researcher in the Amazon)
> brought up the point that people live in these places (the 50% of the
> earth) and they depend on the resources from them. Wilson did not at all
> seem to discount this point or to forsake these folks and he seemed to
> think there was a way to "manage" and allow their "hunting" and resource
> harvesting. Presumably for local sustenance? I don't know.
> I just don't know how realistic he is approaching this, but I suppose that
> is laid out in the book. I also think Hilborn's perspective is worth
> bearing in mind, but I'd like to apply it once I better know what Wilson
> actually has to say about his idea, not to a NYTimes article or NPR
> interview. I think that most people who hear the idea are rightfully
> skeptical of the practicality of setting aside 50% of the Earth, let alone
> the Ocean. Though I think we can all agree (at least the rational and
> reasonable among us) that "resource" depletion and habitat fouling is
> reaching critical levels around the world.
> If nothing else, I'd like to know more even if it's just for its
> aspirational value and its valuable insights into this crazy ride on planet
> Earth. I'd hate to live in a world without dreamers and a world without
> practicality could get pretty hairy... Just my thoughts.
> Cheers,
> David J. Evans
> www.refractum.blogspot.com<http://www.refractum.blogspot.com/>
> ------------------------------
> Message: 2
> Date: Mon, 7 Mar 2016 13:35:11 +0000
> From: "Magnus  Johnson" <m.johnson at hull.ac.uk<mailto:m.johnson at hull.ac.uk
> >>
> Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Half-earth: our planet's fight for life
> To: Coral-List Subscribers <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov<mailto:
> coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>>
> Message-ID:
>     <8A3EA8C56DC9804680CDA8CD57F3FFD5FB473F3B at PAT-DG1.scar.hull.ac.uk
> <mailto:8A3EA8C56DC9804680CDA8CD57F3FFD5FB473F3B at PAT-DG1.scar.hull.ac.uk>>
> Content-Type: text/plain; charset="us-ascii"
> I like EO Wilson's writing and admire his career/achievements but it's
> worth reading a critique of his suggestion that 50% of the ocean should be
> "protected".
> http://cfooduw.org/eo-wilson-fishing/
> -----Original Message-----
> From: Vassil Zlatarski [mailto:vzlatarski at gmail.com<mailto:
> vzlatarski at gmail..com>]
> Sent: 07 March 2016 11:51
> To: Coral-List Subscribers
> Subject: [Coral-List] Half-earth: our planet's fight for life
> Dear colleagues,
> This week appears new book by the world's preeminent biologist and leader
> of efforts for preservation of biodiversity Edward O. Wilson "Half-earth:
> our planet's fight for life".
> Enjoy,
> Vassil
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Douglas Fenner
Consultant, corals, coral reefs, coral identification
"have regulator, will travel"
PO Box 7390
Pago Pago, American Samoa 96799  USA

phone 1 684 622-7084

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