There is broad scientific agreement that no-take marine reserves can generate benefits, such as protection of biodiversity. There is debate, however, over evidence that these benefits include larger yields for nearby fisheries. The “reserve effect” for fisheries – thought to occur via export of larvae and adult fish from a reserve to fished areas – is difficult to measure, due in part to the complexity of ocean systems (MPA News 5:6 and 5:7). Depending on local conditions and the species of interest, positive impacts of reserves on fishery yields could take years to occur and be detected. In some cases they may not occur at all.

Suggestions by planners that a reserve will increase yields can be very useful in securing fishing-community support for designation. If such increases do not occur as anticipated, though, the disappointment could lead to frustration and non-compliance. How are planners handling this challenge? This month, MPA News provides a sample of reserve-planning cases in which the topic of increased yields was introduced, and describes what role it played in shaping stakeholder sentiment. In the article after that, MPA News asks three scientists what promises can be made to stakeholders on the benefits of reserves to their community and environment. Readers are invited to compare and contrast the articles.

No-take MPAs in the Philipines

More than 400 community-based, no-take MPAs have been designated in the Philippines since 1980. Initiated largely as part of NGO-directed coastal management projects, Philippine MPAs are approved by local government units following extensive public consultation. With many Philippine coral reefs severely overfished, the potential for larger catches flowing from the protected areas is an attractive concept to fishing communities.

Liza Eisma is executive director of the Coastal Conservation and Education Foundation (CCEF), a Philippine NGO that has helped guide several MPA-planning processes. She says the issue of increased yields comes up regularly in community discussions with CCEF personnel. “Our community officers will discuss the present state of the fisheries in the nation (and in the locality if there is available data), the issues and challenges, and the potential benefits of MPAs,” she says. “But they do not necessarily promise an increase in fishery yields. More, they focus on how MPAs can address the issues of fisheries degradation and overexploitation. Our officers explain the science of MPAs in the simplest terms, how they can contribute toward fishery enhancement, and how they can render socioeconomic benefits to the community over time.”

Eisma says the level of community support for MPAs in the Philippines is not entirely dependent on the expectation of increased fishery yields, although that expectation is a leading factor. “The creation of MPAs is also attributable to the community’s sense of ownership of the sanctuary, stewardship for its protection, and increased income in tourism through user fees,” she says. She adds that when MPAs fail to protect resources – which occurs as much as 90% of the time in the Philippines, according to researchers (MPA News 2:11) – it is usually due to lack of local governmental support or enforcement, or conflicts between user groups. It is not due, she says, to community frustration from lack of increased fish yields, leading to non-compliance. In fact, Eisma knows of no MPAs that failed to result in increased fishery yields in surrounding waters. “There may be cases in which the increased yields took a longer time to occur than others,” she says, “but that can be attributed to poor siting of the MPA, pollution, siltation, mining operations in adjacent areas, or even to natural occurrences such as El Nino events.” Measurement of the yields has been conducted as part of community-based monitoring programs.

Danny Ocampo was a community officer for CCEF on three MPA-planning processes, and still consults for the organization. (He is presently with Greenpeace Southeast Asia.) Ocampo says the processes focused on comparing past and present fishery catches, and how stakeholders wanted their resources to be in the future. “We discussed the possibility of establishing a protected area, or ‘fish breeding area’, to help restore the fish population in the sanctuary and eventually on the surrounding reefs,” he says. “We never gave them a hard figure for what to expect in terms of fishery yields.”

Ocampo says community participation was based on the concept of assuring future generations a bountiful harvest. “There were some fishermen who said they joined the effort not because they wanted more fish for themselves but for the next generations,” he says. “In this case, community support was tied to the long-term goal of providing more fish to their children, while still focusing on the fact they expected the sanctuaries to replenish their dwindling fish stocks.”

Some MPA-planning processes have involved firmer assurances of increased fishery yields than others. Brian Stockwell, a biologist at Silliman University (Philippines), has served as a fisheries consultant to more than 30 community-based MPA-planning processes in the Philippines. In these processes, says Stockwell, the primary reason for communities to establish MPAs has been simple: to increase fish catches. He says such expectations are reasonable, and has advised communities on what to anticipate. “I tell the community that fish stocks will increase outside the reserve, but not for five to seven years,” he says. “We generally see a noticeable increase inside the reserve within two to three years.” He also tells them the rate of increase is dependent on the types of fishing gear used outside the reserve. “MPAs will not be effective if gear that destroys habitat and targets juvenile fish is used,” he says. “This means ceasing gear such as blastfishing, cyanide, and fine mesh nets.”

Stockwell is confident that fish yields will indeed increase as a result of reserves, although he acknowledges that few studies have conclusively proven such increases to occur. He attributes this to poor sampling design and the length of time required for adequate studies. “The only study I am aware of in which fishing improved over time in the Philippines was at Apo Island, which required more than 10 years of data collection,” he says. He aims to demonstrate that Apo Island was not an isolated case. With other researchers, he is planning a series of fishery-yield studies near MPAs to examine the subject.

Like Eisma, Stockwell says the failure of many Philippine MPAs has little to do with a community not seeing an increase in fishery yield. “One of the main reasons for failure is that the community did not fully support the MPA in the first place, and thus poaching occurred,” he says. “Those MPAs that have worked are the result of social workers first living with the community and educating them on the benefits of MPAs.” In other words, he suggests that for fishery yields to increase, fishermen must first be convinced the yields will increase. Compliance and larger catches will result.

Multi-use MPAs in Colombia

In the San Andres Archipelago of Colombia, a four-year process to map and zone three multi-use MPAs (the “Seaflower MPAs”) is concluding this year. The community-based process, featuring creation of no-take and no-entry zones within the MPAs, was keenly influenced by the potential for larger local fishery yields. Granted, much of the increase would come from reallocation of fishing rights: locally based fishermen are almost entirely artisanal, and they voted to create large zones where only artisanal fishing was allowed, thus excluding rival, off-island-based industrial fleets. (Overall catch will be reduced under the plan, although artisanal fishermen will be allowed a larger share.) But reserve effects were considered as well, beyond simply the placement of artisanal fishing zones near no-take areas.

Marion Howard is former coordinator of the MPA project for CORALINA, a regional Colombian government agency that oversees the archipelago’s natural resources and sustainable development. “Fishers expect that if no-take zones and no-entry zones include entire ecosystems and essential habitat, the MPAs will eventually replenish some fisheries,” she says. “To fishers, this is common sense. CORALINA told the community that there was no guarantee of spillover effects because whether productivity would increase, and in what timeframe, would depend on an array of ecological and human factors. However, we did cite studies and anecdotes – as did visiting experts – that indicated that increased productivity and spillover would happen with proper management.”

Howard says the expectation of increased fish catches from conservation was very important to securing community support for the project. “Asked if MPAs would benefit them, 96% of local fishers surveyed during planning said yes, and the main reasons given were improved marine conservation and productivity,” she says. “Also, 97% of fishers said some zones should be closed to extraction, showing that fishers link catch with conservation and are aware that degraded habitats and ecosystems are less productive.”

Howard says that what a community should expect in terms of impacts from a new MPA depends on the site and the MPA design: i.e., the planning process, objectives, zoning, administrative structure, management, and regulations. “MPAs should be designed and managed to satisfy local needs – in addition to international and national conservation and sustainable development goals – and to address problems at the particular site,” she says. “MPA design cannot follow a formula or adhere to set protocols, and impacts cannot be predicted with any degree of certainty. Therefore, it is important that the users themselves choose MPAs as their preferred management alternative. Planners, managers, and scientists should be frank with the community about what is known and unknown, and the planning process should be open and transparent. Furthermore, stakeholders should be actively involved from the beginning and participate in decision-making, if legally possible, so that ownership and responsibility for impacts are shared.”

For more information:

Rose-Liza Eisma-Osorio, Coastal Conservation and Education Foundation, Rm 302, Third Floor, PDI Condominium, Banilad, Cebu City, Philippines. Tel: +63 32 233 6947; E-mail:

Daniel M. Ocampo, Greenpeace Southeast Asia,Unit 329 Eagle Court Condominium, 26 Matalino Street, 1101 Quezon City, Philippines. Tel: +63 2 4347034; E-mail:

Brian Stockwell, Silliman Univesity Angelo King Center for Research and Environmental Management (SUAKCREM), 2nd Floor Silliman University Marine Lab, Dumaguete City, 6200, Philippines. Tel: +63 35 422 5698; E-mail:

Marion Howard, West End, Cayman Brac, Cayman Islands, BWI. E-mail: