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Fishing activities spiking near marine protected areas

A new study led by ProtectedSeas – an organization aiming to provide open data and monitoring solutions to enhance awareness of and compliance with ocean protection efforts – has found that boaters often cluster along the edges of marine protected areas (MPAs) off the coast of California. These findings suggest that fishers are aware of the MPA boundaries and cluster just outside them to benefit from better fishing opportunities.

The researchers used the ProtectedSeas Marine Monitor (M2) autonomous data collection tool to continuously monitor vessel activity for an entire year in the vicinity of five state-managed MPAs near San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Cambria. The results revealed that 40 percent more boating and fishing activity occurred in the vicinity of the MPAs compared to the surrounding regions.

“Most activity occurred at or beyond MPA edges, and not within the area itself,” said study lead author Samantha Cope, a researcher at ProtectedSeas. “This suggests that boaters are aware of the MPA and that the areas are serving their purpose of creating safe refuges for ocean life regeneration. Fishers see a benefit from spending time near the area because MPAs are working.”

MPAs off the Californian coastline restrict fishing activities to safeguard endangered marine species and their habitats. The fact that fishing activities were more concentrated along the edges of the MPAs suggest that fish may be more abundant there. Monitoring human activity in these regions can help managers evaluate the ecological and community benefits of MPAs, detect patterns in boat activity and other human uses, and ensure that the MPA regulations are strictly followed. 

“Conservation work needs to be driven by data, and M2 helps us understand trends in what’s happening in MPAs,” said study co-author Jessica Morten, a resource protection specialist at the Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary.

The M2 monitoring system provides scientists with an independent, easy-to-use method for continuously documenting human activity in and around MPAs. 

“We specifically designed M2 to monitor important marine places at a cost that was realistic for local managers,” said M2 Product Manager and study co-author Brendan Tougher. “This research shows that M2 is an accessible and robust tool for monitoring MPAs. As a ‘low-tech’ solution for more efficient MPA monitoring, M2 is especially valuable for anyone with limited technical experience or resources since people can be quickly trained on how to use and interpret data from our systems.”

The study is published in the journal PLoS ONE.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer  

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