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Marine Protected Areas Are Not Panaceas
Group urges "protection with a purpose," saying closed reserve areas must be warranted, defined, and monitored


August 29, 2003
Friday - 12:20 am

Juneau, AK - The Marine Conservation Alliance (MCA) - a consortium of North Pacific coastal communities, fish harvesters, and seafood processors promoting responsible stewardship of marine resources - is urging caution in response to a report released today by the World Wildlife Fund, advocating nearly one-third of ocean habitat be placed in special status as Marine Protected Areas (MPAs).

"Absolutely, we support protection of marine habitats," MCA Executive Director Ron Clarke said. "Healthy marine habitat means strong fish populations, ecologically sound fisheries, and economically important jobs. However," Clarke continued, "MPAs can serve legitimate management objectives only if they meet three critical tests."

Clarke said any new MPAs must:

  • be scientifically justified;
  • have clearly articulated goals; and
  • incorporate provisions for continued monitoring to ensure those goals are being achieved.

"Further," Clarke added, "creation of new MPAs must take into account existing closures." In the Bering Sea, year-round bottom trawl closures encompass about 30,000 square nautical miles, an area larger than Indiana and more than twice the size of the Georges Bank off the east coast of the United States. Trawl closures in the Gulf of Alaska encompass 60,000 square nautical miles. Additionally, large expanses of the North Pacific are closed seasonally, for bycatch reduction, or to protect marine mammal habitat and feeding areas. Together, these closures comprise some 25% of the continental shelf.

The WWF report advocates "massive expansion" of marine reserves, but the MCA says the example of North Pacific fisheries counters such sweeping statements. The region's groundfish fishery went from a foreign-dominated, inadequately regulated system in the 1970s to what is now widely regarded as the best-managed fishery in the world.

In the North Pacific, which produces more than 50% of all seafood harvested in the U.S., no groundfish species are overfished, Americans derive the greatest benefit from the area's natural wealth, and catch and bycatch are monitored closely through an industry-funded observer program.

"Importantly," Clarke noted, "the regional councils created by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act already enjoy ample authority to designate restrictions and closures ­ in essence, MPAs ­ and the North Pacific Fishery Management Council has never hesitated to exercise that authority to protect marine resources."

The Magnuson-Stevens Act is a program for science-based management of marine resources with a goal of perpetuating fisheries producing optimum yield on a sustainable basis.

Clarke said, "under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, managers of the North Pacific have demonstrated the success of specifically-designed closures; closures for a season or a month to protect breeding fish and their habitat, time closures to reduce bycatch, or area closures prohibiting specific fishing gear types, for example."

"MPA definitions should be broad enough to include fishery management actions that close an area year-round or seasonally, or otherwise restrict gear types to achieve conservation and management objectives," Clarke said. "MPAs cannot be 'one-size-fits-all' actions, and they need not be confined to the far end of the spectrum, that being no-take marine reserves. We support protection of fish habitat, but it should be protection with a purpose."

"We encourage establishment of MPA guidelines with the same transparent, public, science-driven process central to all fishery management council decisions," Clarke said.

The National Research Council's ecosystem-based management principles are already a fact of life in the North Pacific - and some of these model practices have been in place for more than two decades. North Pacific managers follow these guidelines:

  • Science- based management decisions;
  • Conservative fishing quotas;
  • Effective monitoring and enforcement;
  • Rationalization of effort;
  • Protection of fisheries-dependent communities;
  • Incorporation of ecosystem-based management principles into Fishery Management Plans;
  • An open, transparent public process where all stakeholders can participate; and
  • Recognition of the importance of this wholesome, sustainable source of nutritious, high-quality seafood.

According to the Marine Conservation Alliance, as a result, time and gear closures of huge tracts of ocean have long been facts of life in the North Pacific. More than 100,000 square nautical miles are closed to trawling either year-round or seasonally. State law prohibits trawling in state waters - within three miles of land - from the mainland coasts to the distant tip of the Aleutian Chain. Further, Alaska's state constitution mandates sustainable use of natural resources, and if an activity isn't specifically provided for, it isn't allowed at all.

MCA says areas already closed or restricted to fishing include the following:

  • Bottom Trawl Restrictions in State Waters, State Critical Habitat Areas, and State Marine Parks
  • Catcher Vessel Operational Area
  • Pribilof Islands Savings Area
  • Herring Savings Areas
  • Prohibited Species Bycatch Limitation Zones
  • Crab and Halibut Protection Zones
  • Chum Salmon Savings Area
  • Pribilof Islands Habitat Conservation Area
  • Steller Sea Lion Critical Habitat Protection Areas
  • 3 Nautical Mile No Transit Zones Around Steller Sea Lion Rookeries
  • Pollock and Cod No Trawl Zones
  • Atka Mackerel No Trawl Zones
  • Nearshore Bristol Bay Closure Area
  • Bristol Bay Red King Crab Savings Area
  • Walrus Islands Closures
  • Chinook Salmon Savings Areas
  • Cape Edgecumbe Pinnacles Reserve
  • Bogoslof Groundfish Closure Area
  • Alaska Coastal Management Plan Areas Meriting Special Attention
  • Southeast Alaska Dive Fishery Closures
  • Southeast Trawl Closure in the Gulf of Alaska

"We're way ahead of the game here," Clarke said. "The North Pacific has a substantial collection of protected areas already in place."

The Marine Conservation Alliance was established in 2001 by fishing associations, communities, Community Development Quota groups, harvesters, processors, and support sector businesses to promote the sustainable use of North Pacific marine resources by present and future generations - based on sound science, prudent management, and a transparent, open public process. According to information provided by MCA, the Marine Conservation Alliance supports research and public education about the fishery resources of the North Pacific, and seeks practical solutions to resource use questions to both protect the marine environment and minimize adverse impacts on the North Pacific fishing community.


Source of News Release:

Marine Conservation Alliance
Web Site


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