waves by rocky point


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. 

The Blue Paradox: Preemptive Overfishing in Marine Protected Areas

Can the announcement of an impending no-take marine reserve trigger an unintended race-to-fish?

While no-take marine reserves are designed to catalyze environmental improvements, the announcement of a marine reserve —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 marine reserve. Such preemptive behavior has the potential to undermine the anticipated benefits of the marine reserves by temporarily depleting populations below where they would have been without the announcement. As a result, it may be years or decades before the new marine reserve recovers back to its pre-announcement status. 

To test this theory, we used Global Fishing Watch to look at fishing effort within the Phoenix Islands Protected Area (PIPA), one of the world’s largest and most celebrated marine reserves, and a control region composed of two other island groups in Kiribati. We look at fishing effort both before and after a total ban of commercial fishing in PIPA took place on January 1, 2015. Within PIPA and relative to the control region, we observe a dramatic spike in fishing effort in the period leading up to the ban, as fishers preemptively harvested resources while they still could. This extra fishing — equivalent to 1.5 years of avoided fishing during the ban — placed PIPA in a relatively impoverished state when the policy was eventually enforced. We call this phenomenon the “blue paradox.” Extrapolating this behavior globally, we estimate that if other marine reserve announcements were to trigger similar preemptive fishing behaviour, it could temporarily increase the share of global over-extracted fisheries from 65% to 72%. To reduce this blue paradox effect, we recommend reducing the policy design period and the duration of time between marine reserve announcement and enforcement.

The Business Case for Marine Protection

Marine protected areas (MPAs) have the potential to improve the health of ocean ecosystems, fisheries, and local economies, but designing and implementing them can be costly, and the benefits that this type of conservation intervention is able to provide are always context-dependent. One barrier to the widespread implementation and long-term success of MPAs is the lack of information decision makers have regarding when, where, and how an MPA in their country’s waters can produce economic and conservation benefits. We are working to fill this gap by providing leaders with information they can use to make more informed decisions regarding MPA implementation in their exclusive economic zones (EEZs). With support from the Waitt Foundation, we are developing a model that--on an EEZ-by-EEZ basis--evaluates the potential for large-scale MPAs to generate substantial economic benefits for the implementing country. The model includes benefits from relevant industries, such as the fishing sector, as well as estimated costs associated with the initial implementation and long-term maintenance of MPAs. We will ultimately rank countries based on how strong of a business case exists for each to implement and capture significant economic benefits from a large-scale MPA.

Mapping a Global Network of Marine Protected Areas

From climate change, to unsustainable resource extraction, to pollution, humans are responsible for several major environmental crises currently facing our planet. Many people within the scientific community argue that conservation is a viable pathway for creating a “safety net” of natural capital that can provide for us now and in the future. Yet in the ocean space, conservation priority analyses have focused primarily on biodiversity, ignoring the potential of protected marine ecosystems to help mitigate climate change and provide valuable food security benefits. 

In partnership with National Geographic’s Pristine Seas and several other academic institutions around the world, SFG is working to identify and prioritize ocean areas that, once fully-protected from extractive activities, will deliver the greatest return on investment for biodiversity conservation, carbon sequestration, and food provisioning, now and in the future. Our work is part of a larger program that will ultimately endeavor to turn our results into meaningful on-the-ground conservation actions. We are drawing on a wealth of datasets and expertise provided by the members of this global collaboration, and we are leveraging the field of decision-science to construct a model that can help us address this important challenge. Our final research product will be a map of global conservation priorities that meet all three of our chosen conservation objectives--biodiversity, carbon sequestration, and food provisioning.

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.

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.

TURF-Reserve Case Studies