In an article in the June 2009 issue of PLoS ONE journal, researchers take a different look at the concept of planning marine reserves. They suggest that selecting the areas of the ocean that should remain fished may be a more efficient management policy than selecting the areas where fishing should be banned.

Using spatial catch data from 13 commercial fisheries along the Pacific coast of Canada, the researchers set catch targets for each fishery that represented a small reduction (2%-5%) from current levels. Then, using a decision-support tool, they determined the minimum ocean area needed to maintain those catch targets, allowing the remaining area to be unfished. The result: those small reductions in fisheries yields could result in large unfished areas – totaling 20%-30% of previously fished waters – that also contained a significant proportion of the region’s representative habitat types.

“Our approach of selecting fishing areas instead of reserves could help redirect debate about the relative values that society places on conservation and extraction, in a framework that could gain much by losing little,” write co-authors Natalie Ban and Amanda Vincent of the University of British Columbia in Canada. (Ban has since moved to James Cook University in Australia.) “Instead of debating the merit of each potential marine reserve, the discourse could focus on analyses of the ecological benefits of small reductions in fishing,” they write. The article “Beyond Marine Reserves: Exploring the Approach of Selecting Areas where Fishing Is Permitted, Rather than Prohibited” is available for free at