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How Marine Protected Areas Help Fisheries and Ocean Ecosystems

By Margaret Cooney, Miriam Goldstein, and Emma Shapiro Posted on June 3, 2019, 12:01 am, Center for American Progress 

Currently, in the United States, two major MPA policy approaches have found success and been proven to provide benefits to fishermen and other local stakeholder communities. One approach involves large, relatively remote marine national monuments that are mostly highly to fully protected. If highly to fully protected MPAs are well-designed, they will provide environmental and economic benefits.78 However, large MPAs can encompass entire ecosystems and interdependent habitats.79 Large MPAs are also better able to resist large-scale disturbances such as those caused by climate change, as well as other man-made and environmental disturbances. Such resiliency can help local fisheries bounce back more rapidly after these events.80

Another successful approach includes multiuse networks of small MPAs. The most prominent example is the network of MPAs in California state waters created by the state’s Marine Life Protection Act.81 California’s MPAs are much smaller in size than the marine national monuments, but they are notable for their nearness to shore, the significant involvement of the fishing community, and the spectrum of protections that they offer. The West Coast fishing community is beginning to see the benefits of this approach, with heavily overfished rockfish stocks rebuilding faster than anticipated.82

As climate change drives unprecedented change across the ocean, MPAs are one of the United States’ most powerful tools to protect each region’s unique biodiversity, fisheries, and way of life. The international community has been calling for individual countries to protect 30 percent of each marine habitat within their territorial waters by 2030.83 CAP strongly recommends that the United States move beyond a goal of 30 percent total and toward one that would protect 30 percent of each major geographic region. Given the benefits of highly to fully protected MPAs and the fact that the vast majority of U.S. waters outside the remote Pacific have relatively minimal protection, the focus should be on ensuring that all key regions and ecosystems receive designations that are more representative of the unique and important habitats within U.S. waters.

Margaret Cooney is the campaign manager for Ocean Policy at the Center for American Progress. Miriam Goldstein is the managing director for Energy and Environment and the director of Ocean Policy at the Center. Emma Shapiro is a former intern for Public Lands and Ocean Policy at the Center.




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