Victoria passes MPA legislation

In June, the Australian state of Victoria passed legislation to designate a representative system of no-take MPAs covering roughly 5% of the state’s waters. The system will include 13 marine national parks and 11 smaller marine sanctuaries, to take effect November 2002.

The legislation marked the culmination of a 10-year process of investigations and public comment on the issue (MPA News 3:1). Government officials said the new system’s representative nature, size, and biodiversity established Victoria as a global leader in marine conservation. “This is a world-first environmental initiative,” said Acting Premier John Thwaites.

Included in the system is a compensation scheme for fishermen affected by the new closures: financial assistance will be available to fishery-license holders to cover increased operating costs and reduced catches directly related to the no-take areas (MPA News 3:11). The scheme is a revision of one offered by the government last year, which was blocked by the parliamentary opposition for capping the amount of compensation to be made available. The cap was removed in this year’s bill. Changes to the compensation arrangement – paired with amendments to the proposed boundaries of several parks – helped secure final parliamentary support.

For more information: James O’Brien, Department of Natural Resources and Environment, 8 Nicholson Street, East Melbourne VIC 3002, Australia. Tel: +61 3 9637 8910; E-mail:; Web:

Canada designates fishery closure to protect deepwater corals

In June, the Canadian Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) designated a 424-km2 area of Georges Bank off Canada’s Atlantic coast as a “coral conservation closure”, in which gillnetting and bottom-trawling are banned. The move is intended to protect the area’s sensitive deepwater coral habitat from disturbance. Fishing for groundfish by longline – the gear that has, more often than not, been used in the area in recent decades – will be restricted to a popular fishing site that comprises 10% of the closure. DFO will place observer personnel on most of the longliners in this fished area to monitor the gear’s effects on coral.

Leslie Burke, regional director of fisheries management with DFO, said this and related research will help inform the department’s long-term strategy on protecting coral. As DFO learns more about coral and its protection, he said, the closure’s coordinates and regulatory conditions could change. “The boundaries could grow, or some fishing could be allowed back in if studies show it is safe,” he said.

Due to strong and variable currents and rocky substrate, much of the closure’s coral-rich area is difficult to fish using any gear, according to Martin Willison, a professor of biology at Dalhousie University (Canada) who has championed the protection of Canadian corals for several years. Nonetheless, Willison suspects that at some sites within the closure, corals have been removed by fishing activity. “I am pleased that the closure includes these damaged areas because it may make it possible to observe recovery of coral communities,” he said. Willison said he was disappointed that the plan, as designed, will demonstrate only the impacts of longlining gear; he would prefer to see intensive observer coverage included for the trawlers and gillnetters operating immediately outside the conservation area. But he called the closure “a good first step” for coral protection.

Deepwater corals typically live between 100 and 2000 meters below the sea surface, in temperatures of 4-12°C. With much of their biology and ecology still unknown to scientists, deepwater corals are the focus of increasing study and conservation efforts around the world (MPA News 3:5).

For more information:

Leslie Burke, Department of Fisheries and Oceans, Regional Director’s Office, Scotia-Fundy Fisheries, P.O. Box 1035, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia B2Y 4T3, Canada. Tel: +1 902 426 9962; E-mail:

Martin Willison, School for Resource and Environmental Studies, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 3J5, Canada. Tel: +1 902 494 2966; E-mail:

Reserves can help catches by preserving fish genetic diversity, says study

The designation of no-take marine reserves may be necessary for sustaining fishery yields over the long term, due to their ability to preserve genetic variation in the expression of fish size and growth rates, according to a study published in the 5 July 2002 issue of the journal Science. In their lab-based research on populations of Atlantic silversides (Menidia menidia), David Conover and Stephan Munch of the State University of New York at Stony Brook (US) wrote that their selective harvest of larger fish – a strategy often employed in fisheries management through minimum-size restrictions – eventually resulted in a population of smaller, slower-growing individuals. It also brought a smaller overall yield, compared to other selective harvest strategies. The researchers argue that similar evolutionary forces are at work in the wild. Because fecundity increases with size, reserves may therefore be necessary to protect larger fish, thereby maintaining population productivity, they said.

For more information: David Conover, Marine Sciences Research Center, State University of New York, Stony Brook, NY 11794-5000, USA. Tel: +1 631 632 8667; E-mail: