Area-based management of blue water fisheries: Current knowledge and research needs
The pelagic fisheries beyond the continental shelves are currently managed with a range of tools largely based on regulating effort or target catch. These tools comprise both static and dynamic area-based approaches to include gear limitations, closed areas and bycatch limits. There are increasing calls for additional area-based interventions, particularly expansion of marine protected areas, with many now advocating closing 30% of the oceans to fishing. In this paper, we review the objectives, methods and successes of area-based management of blue water fisheries across objectives related to food production and environmental, social and economic impacts. We also consider the methods used to evaluate the performance of area-based regulations and provide a summary of the relative quality of evidence from alternative evaluation approaches. We found that few area-based approaches have been rigorously evaluated, and that it is often difficult to obtain requisite observational data to define a counterfactual to infer any causal effect for such evaluation. Management agencies have been relatively successful at maintaining important commercial species at or near their target abundance, but success at meeting ecological or social goals is less clear. The high mobility of both target and bycatch species generally reduces the effectiveness of area-based management, and shifting distributions due to climate change suggest that adaptive rather than static approaches will be preferred. We prioritize research and management actions that would make area-based management more effective.