A seven-member panel of US scientists and policy experts has released a consensus statement on the effects of no-take marine reserves, their usefulness in fisheries management in the US, and how they may be designed, monitored, and evaluated. The statement also addresses sources of uncertainty associated with marine reserves, and recommends areas for further study. It is available online at http://www.nfcc-fisheries.org/consensus.

Among the conclusions of the panel is that “knowledge is sufficient to proceed with the design and evaluation of reserves for the purposes of addressing primary fishery management goals.” However the panel says that further experiments designed explicitly to study reserve effects on fisheries are “urgently needed”, and that important uncertainties remain for nearly all aspects of reserve planning and implementation.

Convened in June 2004 by the National Fisheries Conservation Center (a NGO), the panel was part of a two-day conference to examine several reserve-related questions, and was aided by input from modelers, ecologists, fishermen, and others. The panel consisted of individuals not currently engaged in research or advocacy in the field of marine reserves. Past issues of MPA News have demonstrated disputes among biologists and fisheries scientists over the limits of reserve science and the effectiveness of reserves for fisheries management (MPA News 5:6 and 5:7).

Reserves as precautionary tool

The panel’s findings generally parallel those of past US efforts to forge consensus on marine reserve science. A report by an expert committee of the National Research Council in 2000, for example, also called upon fisheries managers to incorporate reserves as a supplement to conventional management tools, and identified future avenues of research (MPA News 2:5). In 2001, more than 100 marine-science academics recommended that marine resource managers use reserves as a “central management tool” for achieving fishery and conservation benefits (MPA News 2:8).

Notably, the NFCC panel asserts that reserves are not necessarily more “precautionary” than other management tools, strictly in terms of fishery management. “Many authors have speculated that marine reserves offer more precaution (insurance) against management and scientific uncertainty than do traditional measures,” the panel writes. “At this point, this is an assertion and no studies using common definitions and metrics of precaution have been conducted.” However, taking a broader set of factors into account – such as stabilizing trophic structure or preserving biodiversity – may tip the weighted risks and benefits in favor of utilizing a reserve, states the panel.

For more information:

Suzanne Iudicello, National Fisheries Conservation Center, 308 Raymond St., Ojai, CA 93023, USA. Tel: +1 805 646 8369; E-mail: suzannenfcc@rushmore.com