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International Game Fish Association and Marine Protected Areas

By Staff | Dec 22, 2016

Just mention creating a new Marine Protected Area (MPA) and fishermen tend to bristle. This management tool has been around for decades, if not centuries, but has gradually become more contentious as their use has increased and fish stocks have declined. On the surface it seems quite simple – reducing pressure in a specific area or areas can, in theory, lead to more and bigger fish.

However, the truth is that it’s usually much more complex than this, as the science of MPAs as a fishery management tool is not perfect, which can also be said for many other traditional management approaches, by the way. With that said, there are some instances where the judicious implementation of MPAs is almost a no-brainer. One such circumstance is their application to localized spawning aggregation sites (SPAGGS).

The IGFA’s position on Marine Protected Areas is fairly straightforward. They support management that benefits both anglers and fish, as the sport of angling suffers when too much emphasis is placed on one or the other. They also stand behind management predicated on the best available science, focused on clear objectives with demonstrative results.

They view MPAs as simply another fisheries management tool. As is the case with traditional fisheries management tools (size and bag limits, closed seasons, etc.), the efficacy of MPAs is a function of the intended objective and the science behind it.

The IGFA does not, however, support the implementation of MPAs without clear objectives resulting in a net improvement to fish stocks that will ultimately benefit recreational anglers.

In situations where depleted stocks cannot be rebuilt with the use of traditional fisheries management tools, IGFA is receptive to the implementation of well-designed MPAs as a last effort to rebuild ailing stocks. They also are amenable to the concept of MPAs that protect critical/unique fish habitat, when research demonstrates that recreational angling is detrimental to its proliferation. Clearly, this is the case with SPAGGS.

SPAGGS occur in many places throughout the world where unique habitat and oceanographic conditions provide an important site for fish to spawn en masse. The benefits of protecting these fish during spawning go far beyond the immediate area.

Due to currents, larval transport models indicate that fish larvae emanating from these areas get dispersed and settle throughout. Thus, thousands of recreational anglers many miles from these sites stand to benefit from protection of these areas.