Marine Parks mean simpler rules for fishermen

gee I wish there were more marine parks, click for a larger image

Marine Parks, properly implemented from a fisheries management perspective, can reduce the regulatory burden on fishermen. They can make fishing cheaper, simpler, more accessible and more rewarding.

In response to the rapid rise in the use of marine parks in Australia and overseas, the anti marine park lobby has been frantically trying to establish several new principles, mostly through repetition. These principles go along the lines that marine parks should only be used a last resort due to the impost on fishermen, that marine parks should only be used where necessary (I have never seen an explanation of 'necessary' in this context and can only conclude that it is deliberately left without meaning), or that marine parks should only be justified in terms of their environmental or biodiversity benefits.

This article justifies the rejection of all of these principles, mostly through stating the obvious, then goes into some more subtle principles of marine park design through which the benefit to fishermen can be maximised. It then explains some of the incentives that a vocal minority of fishermen have for misleading the public about marine parks, misleading the public about the views of fishermen, and for making fishing less accessible to the average recreational fisherman.

Let's start by stating the obvious. Most recreational fishermen do not own a boat. If you can design regulations that do not impact on those fishermen without a boat, the regulation will not affect the majority of fishermen. If those regulations allow for the simplification or elimination of other rules designed to limit catches, then the overall regulatory burden is reduced. This is the basis of the first principle of marine park design for fisheries management:

1) Design marine parks so that they have little or no impact on fishermen with limited resources.

A simpler statement that almost completely captures this principle is: Do not ban shore based fishing in accessible locations.

The added burden on fishermen with a boat can be reduced by using no take zones with straight edges and clearly marking the corners with buoys. This is usually possible in all but the far offshore zones in deep water. Fishermen in such situations almost universally use a GPS, which is quite cheap these days. Not all boats are created equal, and the principle can also be applied to those areas that offer some protection to smaller boats from the prevailing winds or that are otherwise valuable to boat fishermen, even if they are slightly less productive. Similar principles can also be applied to kayak fishermen and spearfishermen. The ocean is a blank slate and there is enormous flexibility in designing marine parks. For example spearfishermen are strongly limited by visibility, currents, seafloor structure, depth, swell, boat traffic and other dangers. Many of these parameters vary consistently between locations, thus making it possible to choose locations that minimise the impact on spearfishing. The burden of a well implemented system can also be offset if other rules can be relaxed or eliminated. For example, it is much easier to remember to stay outside of your local marine parks than to remember a different size and bag limit for every single species you might catch.

Thus marine parks can make the rules simpler for fishermen. They can also make fishing more accessible and more productive. To explain this, we again start by stating the obvious: as our fisheries have become more heavily exploited, fishermen have gone to far greater lengths to get 'off the beaten track' in pursuit of exciting fishing opportunities. Over recent decades it has also been well established by hard evidence that the spillover effect from no take zones is heavily concentrated around the edge of the no take zone. That is, the benefit to fishermen is heavily localised. This allows fisheries managers to direct at least some of the benefit from marine parks to land based anglers. This is the basis for the second principle of marine park design for fisheries management:

2) Place no take zones adjacent to easily accessible shore based fishing locations.

This does not mean that these shores based fishing spots will become as productive as remote areas that fishermen spend a lot of time and expense to reach. However it will go some way to tipping the balance in favour of the shore based angler who has no four wheel drive, but who wants to drive down to the local breakwall and catch a bream with his son.

By reducing the need to buy a boat and/or a four wheel drive, or to travel long distances to reach more remote areas, marine parks can make fishing cheaper and more accessible. As well as directing the spillover benefit to shore based anglers, marine parks can push those who do choose to use their boat to spend an extra five minutes travelling further, so that the fish adjacent to the most easily accessed spots are left for the fishermen without a boat. That is, the scheme has an added benefit by transferring the resource to land based anglers (in addition to the spillover effect). This is the basis of the third principle of marine park design for fisheries management:

3) Try to keep boat based fishermen out of the immediate vicinity of the most easily accessed locations for shore based fishermen.

An additional mechanism also helps improve catches for shore based fishermen. By fishing adjacent to an area that is unfished, marine parks can improve the catchability of those fish that do spill over, as they are less likely to learn to avoid being caught. There are at least four separate mechanisms through which shore based fishermen will benefit from a fisheries management approach to marine parks: the spillover effect, which increases total catches, directing the benefits of spillover to shore based anglers, direct transfer of the resource from boat based to shore based fishermen (even if you exclude the benefits from the spillover effect), and increasing the catchability for shore based fishermen (and boat fishermen).

Obviously these principles would backfire if taken to the extreme of forcing all fishermen to fish from the shore. There are natural limits to how much additional benefits can be achieved through these principles. Thus a fourth principle is added for balance:

4) The added travel time or expense created for boat fishermen should not be significant compared to how much effort they typically go to.

A fifth principle helps to reinforce this balance and is also a well-established principle for maximising the spillover effect (rather than say, biodiversity or conservation goals):

5) No take zones should be small.

This last principle is limited only by practical limitations on size, for example due to difficulties associated with enforcement and by the ability of fishermen to cast or drift baits or attract fish with burley.

Fishing lobbies do themselves a great disservice by demanding that marine parks be justified based only on goals of biodiversity and conservation, because this would mean that no take zones will be much larger and the spillover benefits to fishermen will not be as great. It would mean that the above principles are ignored.

Applying these principles to the design of marine parks will make fishing simpler, cheaper and more accessible for the majority of recreational fishermen. For the remaining minority, it will have little impact as these fishermen tend to have the resources to travel wherever they need to in order to catch fish, including to those zone boundaries that do not happen to be on the shore.

These principles will also make fishing more rewarding for most anglers, as it can deliver more fish to those fishermen with fewer resources at their disposal. There is a strong scientific consensus that marine parks benefit fishermen in general through the spillover effect. These principles help to deliver as much of that benefit as possible to shore based anglers.

Much of the anti marine park rhetoric is the typical hubris you expect in response to change (and was seen in past responses to the now 'accepted' management strategies the lobby is now defending as the only options we should use). However, the most experienced anglers may feel threatened by the concept of levelling the playing field, even if it is only to a small extent. They may feel that they have a genuine self interest in opposing marine parks and the principles outlined here, even though all fishermen will benefit. They may take pride in their ability to catch fish where others find it difficult, and value this source of pride more than the simple joy of catching a fish. Boat retailers have an obvious financial interest in making it hard to catch fish without a boat, and have significant power over the editorial staff of fishing publications in which they advertise. Whether or not the threat to their income is real, the perception of a threat or risk has been enough to motivate many of them to great efforts. This goes some way to explaining the desperation seen in the anti marine park lobby and the efforts of a small but vocal minority to falsely claim to represent the majority of fishermen. There have been both subtle and overt attempts, using every method imaginable, to silence recreational fishermen who speak up in support of marine parks and to demand the appearance of a unified recreational fishing lobby. It is these very attempts that have caused the issue to become so divisive among recreational fishermen.

Examples of how these principles might be implemented are shown here.

This article explains the scientific consensus behind marine parks and the concept of minimising the size of no take zones to benefit fishermen. It explains the advantages of marine parks over other management tools in terms of ease of enforcement, resilience and sustainability, and the fundamental flaws that make effective fisheries management so difficulty with traditional tools such as size and catch limits.

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