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Widespread trawling inside European Marine Protected Areas is undermining conservation outcomes
Thursday, December 20, 2018 (Halifax, NS) There has been a global effort to increase the coverage of protected zones in the ocean through extensive Marine Protected Area (MPA) networks. Europe features many of these networks today, but the unexpected findings from a ground-breaking new study to be published in Science have caused researchers from Dalhousie University, the Sharks of the Atlantic Research and Conservation Centre (ShARCC) and GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research to do a double take.
The researchers used newly available satellite sensor data provided by Global Fishing Watch that allow fine-scale, near real-time quantification of industrial fishing efforts from space, and investigated 727 MPAs designated by the European Union. Through the data they collected, they were able to determine that industrial fishing is present in at least 59% of these areas.
“Industrially fished marine protected areas will not adequately protect the species that most require it, such as threatened sharks, rays, and skates,” says lead author Manuel Dureuil. “We show that these species are much less common in areas that are trawled, including in many protected areas. On the upside, lightly fished areas do allow for recovery, unfortunately most of these ‘hope-spots’ are currently unprotected”
The researchers were surprised to find that industrial trawl fishing per area is 38% higher inside marine protected areas when compared with non-protected areas, and species, like sharks, rays and skates have declined by 69% in such heavily trawled areas. This suggests these MPAs do not reduce fishing pressure under current management. In the EU, many MPAs do not address commercial fisheries, which are mostly regulated under the EU Common Fisheries Policy. Yet all feature biodiversity protection as a cross-cutting objective.
“This is a striking conservation paradox: When industrial use is elevated, rather than reduced in protected areas, we are not getting the conservation outcomes we need to safeguard the marine environment for the future” adds Boris Worm, Killam Research Professor at Dalhousie, and senior author of the study.
The study highlights suggestions to help ensure that the international targets for increased protected area coverage translate into tangible benefits for biodiversity conservation, and the recovery of threatened marine wildlife. This includes the development and enforcement of minimum standards for MPA designation and classification, along with stronger and more transparent MPA regulations and management.
“It has been shown repeatedly that marine protected areas can successfully protect and rebuild marine ecosystems and species,” says Co-author Kristina Boerder. “But in order to work they need minimum standards of protection such as the exclusion of harmful industrial activities like trawling. We have strong safety standards for food and for cars, why not for ocean protection?”
The full version of the paper, “Elevated trawling inside protected areas undermines conservation outcomes in a global fishing hotspot,” will be published in Science on Friday, December 21, 2018.
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