Strategic Marine Planning


The ocean provides a rich bounty of goods and services – seafood products, climate regulation, shoreline protection, energy, minerals, shipping pathways, and countless others. Though more than 70% of our planet is covered by oceans, most human activity in the marine environment is confined to coastal or nearshore areas, and conflicts between users often arise when tradeoffs exist between services in a given place. Marine spatial planning is one method for reducing these tradeoffs and promotoing responsible resource use. Many of SFG’s projects are based on principles of spatial planning, and we develop tools, models, and rules of thumb to reduce or eliminate conflicts between users. We seek to identify synergies between different sectors of the blue economy and maximize the benefit each can generate from the marine environment without compromising the sustainability of local ecosystems and livelihoods. 

Spatial Management in Chile

Chile is one of the world’s leading fishing nations, and a significant fraction of its total production is harvested by the artisanal sector. Chile is a pioneer in fisheries reform; in the early 1990s, the country enacted a Territorial Use Rights in Fisheries (TURF) program for benthic resources, which now encompasses more than 700 separate TURFs managed by local fishing associations via community-based procedures. Many see the Chilean TURF system as a model for how to successfully move small-scale coastal fisheries from open access to a rights-based management system. 

While the Chilean TURF system has improved the status of the country’s near-shore marine resources by allocating rights to resource-users and giving fishers a prominent role in the management process, there is still room to improve the sustainability of the system. Two factors that limit the TURFs' ability to achieve long-term sustainability goals are (1) a lack of no-take zones to complement existing TURF networks, and (2) the absence of mechanisms to facilitate cooperation among neighboring TURF owners and between TURF owners and fishers targeting finfish in and around the TURFs. Flawed governance, limited market access, and low capacity for producing value-added products also impede the sustainability of Chile’s TURF system. In many instances, these conditions have incentivized fishers to adopt destructive fishing practices that produce unfavorable outcomes for fish populations, fishermen, and the nearshore ecosystem. 

In 2010, The Nature Conservancy’s Humboldt Current Project began working closely with fishing associations, fisheries government agencies, and academic institutions in Chile and the U.S. to refine the country’s approach to artisanal fisheries management. By leveraging its partnership with two local fishing associations (Chaihuín and Huiro) in southern Chile, TNC was ultimately successfully in setting aside neighboring TURFs as no-take zones in 2013, a first-of-its-kind agreement in Chile. SFG played an important role in this process, developing a bioeconomic model to evaluate alternative TURF system designs and their ability to successfully restore and protect essential marine habitat while simultaneously improving the economic performance of fisheries.

The Blue Paradox: Preemptive Overfishing in Marine Protected Areas

While marine protected areas are designed to catalyze environmental improvements, the announcement of an MPA—which can precede its actual implementation and enforcement by a year or more—may inadvertently trigger adverse environmental effects. With the knowledge that they will soon lose access to their fishing grounds, fishers might increase their fishing activity inside the proposed MPA. Such preemptive behavior has the potential to undermine the anticipated benefits of the MPA by depleting populations below the level where they were when the MPA was announced. As a result, it may be years or decades before the new MPA recovers back to its pre-announcement status.
In the past, data limitations have made it impossible to empirically test this theory. But now, thanks to the rich satellite data provided by Global Fishing Watch, we have the means to track the fishing activity of individual vessels—precisely where and when they fished—and then trace this back to the announcement and enforcement of an MPA. We aim to buttress our empirical findings with a theoretical model that describes the conditions under which we would expect such behavior to arise, the conservation benefits and costs of different implementation strategies, and policy recommendations for mitigating potential conservation losses from fishers preemptively increasing fishing activity before an MPA is officially enforced.

TURF-Reserve Design and Management Tool

SFG is working with partners from Fish Forever to create TURF-Reserves, which include spatial fishing rights called TURFs (Territorial User Rights Fisheries), and no-take zones (reserves) inside or adjacent to the TURF. Providing exclusive access to coastal fisheries through TURFs is critical; it ensures that local fishermen reap the rewards of being responsible guardians of the sea. Additionally, reserves boost fish productivity while protecting biodiversity. The coupled TURF-Reserve system overcomes the limitations that these approaches face when used in isolation. Because communities have direct ownership over TURFs, they can capture the spillover benefits of well-enforced reserves. These benefits incentivize enforcement and compliance with no-take restrictions. Exclusive access can also be seen as a reward for establishing or enforcing a reserve, creating a clear benefits exchange. This has been demonstrated in many TURFs around the world where fishermen have elected to create reserves within their own TURF. In short, well-designed TURF-Reserve systems help to recover and sustain fish populations, providing conservation, economic, and food security benefits.
With support from Fish Forever partners, including the Sustainable Fisheries Group, graduate students at the University of California, Santa Barbara developed a TURF-reserve design tool, TURFtools, to support TURF-reserve design in small-scale fisheries. TURFtools was developed for data-limited, coastal fisheries, and this easy-to-use tool allows resource managers and communities to compare the expected biological and economic performance of proposed TURF-reserve designs. By forecasting the expected outcomes of a TURF-reserve, communities can make more informed decisions about the optimal size and placement of TURFs and marine reserves.
TURFtools was created in Microsoft Excel, a software program that is familiar to many managers, and can be used offline. The tool was piloted in the Philippines and Brazil, and it will soon be used across all Fish Forever sites. TURFtools is a simple mechanism for visualizing TURF-reserve design options, and it provides a way for fishers and communities to be engaged in the spatial planning process. Ultimately, fishing communities can use TURFtools to increase their catch, conserve habitats, and ensure the long-term sustainability of their fisheries.

Sustainable Financing for Marine Protected Areas

Though marine protected areas (MPAs) are expanding rapidly across the globe, there is growing concern that current funding models undermine their long-term success by failing to incentivize financial independence and sustainability. While unconventional finance options, like debt swaps for nature or blue bonds, can help supplement current funding sources for conservation, these schemes still rely on financial flows from external sources. We argue that as long as they are dependent on financial inputs from outside investors for implementation and enforcement, MPAs will face greater risk and uncertainty in achieving long-term conservation goals. An alternative approach is to design financial mechanisms that allow MPAs to tap some of the market benefits they generate, and to use them to sustain conservation efforts. 

SFG is working to make MPAs more financially sustainable by developing frameworks that allow them to tap into the demand of users and beneficiaries for the public goods they generate. Different sectors of the “real economy” that could be tapped for benefits include: (1) beneficiaries that derive value from direct use of the conservation area (e.g. divers, snorkelers or other MPA visitors), (2) beneficiaries that derive value from the services provided outside of the area (e.g. fishers who benefit from spillover in adjacent waters), and (3) beneficiaries that value conservation for conservation's sake, even if they do not benefit directly (e.g. general public, philanthropy). 

In order to promote sustainable finance solutions for MPAs, SFG is working to identify all possible beneficiaries that could derive value from proposed or existing MPAs, then determine the kinds of institutions that must be put into place in order to capture that value. For example, to create a funding mechanism that is strictly motivated by fishing benefits, strong property rights must be in place to ensure that those benefits are concentrated and can be captured by an exclusive group of beneficiaries. Property rights would incentivize fishers to comply with MPA policies, and as a result, MPA conservation targets would be reached more efficiently and cost-effectively. 

TURF-Reserve Case Studies