Essential fish habitat as a basis for marine protected areas in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone
The new essential fish habitat (EFH) provisions of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act provide a legal basis for creating marine protected areas (MPAs) in U. S. waters as a measure to protect fish habitat from fishing and gear impacts. To meet the act's other new mandates—to stop overfishing and rebuild overfished stocks—the regional fishery management councils are likely to focus more attention on using closed areas to reduce fishing pressure on overfished stocks than on protecting areas with significant biodiversity and habitat value. Effort-reduction measures that rely on area closures can be confused with habitat-protecting MPAs despite significant differences in their underlying purposes. Developments in the management of Gulf of Maine fisheries suggest some of the difficulties that arise when existing closed areas are relied upon to protect habitat in regions with seriously depleted fish stocks. In such fisheries, tools like MPAs should be adopted to provide permanent protection to sensitive habitat areas. Given the perceived costs of such measures to an industry already under stress from effort-reduction measures, the regional fishery councils are unlikely to endorse these tools without greater pressure to do so from the Secretary of Commerce, the public, and other interested parties. The uncertainties in estimating the fishery benefits of MPAs will provide a rationale for this reluctance. Councils should be urged to develop additional tools that can monitor the location of fishing effort in relation to habitat, that will transfer fishing effort away from sensitive habitat areas, and that provide permanent protection for areas of significant habitat value.
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Document Type: Research Article
Publication date: 01 May 2000
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