What are We Protecting? Fisher Behavior and the Unintended Consequences of Spatial Closures as a Fishery Management Tool

Economists Alan Haynie (Economics & Social Sciences Research (ESSR) program) and Joshua Abbott (Arizona State University) have a forthcoming publication in the journal Ecological Applications that examines the impacts of the red king crab savings area (RKCSA) on the Bering Sea flatfish fishery.

Specifically, the paper examines the winter rock sole and Pacific cod fishery in the years immediatedly following the creation of the RKCSA in 1995. Spatial closures like marine protected areas (MPAs) are prominent tools for ecosystem-based management in fisheries. However, the adaptive behavior of fishermen (the apex predator in the ecosystem) to MPAs may upset the balance of fishing impacts across species.

While ecosystem-based management (EBM) emphasizes the protection of all species in the environment, the weakest stock often dominates management attention. We use data before and after the implementation of the RKCSA to show how closures designed for red king crab protection spurred dramatic increases in Pacific halibut bycatch due to both direct displacement effects and indirect effects from adaptations in fishermen’s targeting behavior. We identify aspects of the ecological and economic context of the fishery that contributed to these surprising behaviors, noting that many multispecies fisheries are likely to share these features.

Our results highlight the need to either anticipate the behavioral adaptations of fishermen across multiple species in reserve design, a form of implementation error, or to design management systems that are robust to these adaptations. Failure to do so may yield patterns of fishing effort and mortality that undermine the broader objectives of multispecies management and potentially alter ecosystems in profound ways.

By Alan Haynie

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