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On September 14, Canada's minister of fisheries and oceans endorsed a plan that will make the waters surrounding Race Rocks, a small nine-islet archipelago, the first official marine protected area in Canada. Commercial fishing and most sport fishing will be off-limits in the MPA, which will measure a little less than one square mile, or 2.6 sq. km, in area. Race Rocks is located on the southernmost end of the nation's Pacific coast (MPA News 1:8).

Canada's Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) designated Race Rocks in 1998 as one of several "pilot MPAs", part of a strategy to determine whether those areas should be formally designated as MPAs and how they could best be managed (MPA News 1:1).

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In Mexico, a new law has incorporated legal tools to allow the establishment of no-take zones in the country's marine and freshwater bodies, in wetlands, and within the 20-meter federal coastal zone. The General Wildlife Law, passed by Congress in July 2000, has the effect of balancing federal fishery regulations set in 1999, which implemented a predominantly production-centered view of Mexico's marine resources.

Under the General Wildlife Law, the Secretariat of the Environment, Natural Resources and Fisheries (SEMARNAP) may now establish what are called "aquatic species protection areas" -- no-take zones, essentially. These areas may be established to protect:

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The consumptive use of wild species is an important aspect of the relationship between humans and the marine environment. For consumption to be sustainable, its conditions must be consistent with conservation.

As one way of fostering those conditions, the concept of rotating closed areas -- alternately closing and re-opening areas to fishing, allowing time for stocks to rebuild after each open season -- has gained the recent attention of some fisheries managers. In the northeastern US scallop fishery, for example, areas that have been closed for half a decade were re-opened this summer for huge catches; the fishery's managers are now considering re-opening the areas every 3-4 years. With managers and researchers elsewhere considering the idea, this could be an emerging trend in fisheries management.

A closed area of the ocean -- even one re-opened cyclically for fishing -- fits most definitions of "marine protected area," including that of the IUCN (MPA News 1:4). The idea of re-opening a closed area to fishing may be unacceptable to conservationists who favor permanently closed areas for the protection of biodiversity. But some managers suggest that such re-openings could be a way of securing buy-in from the fishing industry on the use of various kinds of MPAs.

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Home to hundreds of terrestrial and marine species found nowhere else in the world, the small Yemeni archipelago of Socotra has a new zoning plan that integrates the protection of its land and sea environments. Developed through the cooperative efforts of international experts and local stakeholders, the plan aims to ensure the health of Socotra's biologically significant ecosystems while allowing residents to preserve their traditional resource rights against outsiders.

The plan features new protected areas, on land and in coastal waters. Although the concept of "protected area" is still relatively new to residents of the isolated archipelago, the idea of resource protection is not, said Ed Zandri, director of the project. "What we have done is to merge traditional conservation practices with modern concepts and techniques," said Zandri. "The main objective has been to preserve and strengthen the existing balance between people and nature."

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The economic study of no-take marine reserves is evolving. Ten years ago, economists largely examined such reserves from the vantage of the fishing industry, and were generally skeptical of their justification. Now, armed with models that are increasingly informed by fish stock biology and concerns about uncertainty, economists are forging a new understanding of the economic and societal values involved in the practice of reserves.

Experts gathered last month in Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada), to discuss new trends in the study of marine-reserve economics. The conference, "Economics of Marine Protected Areas," sponsored by the Fisheries Centre of the University of British Columbia, offered insights for MPA practitioners on how economists are viewing the field. Several of these insights could assist planners and managers in their work.

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Often, the reasons for establishing a marine protected area are to protect a resource or ecosystem while providing various social and economic benefits, among them increased fishery catches. As more MPAs are designated around the world, the ability to evaluate the effectiveness of these areas in meeting their policy objectives becomes increasingly important.

Jackie Alder of Edith Cowan University (Australia) has suggested that there is an urgent need for useful approaches capable of measuring MPA performance. In a paper she co-authored and delivered last month at the "Economics of MPAs" conference in Vancouver, British Columbia (Canada), Alder stated, "An assumption underlying the growing support for MPAs is that they meet conservation goals and provide economic benefits, such as to fisheries and ecotourism. However, continued support for MPAs will be at risk if managers cannot assess whether multidisciplinary objectives are being fulfilled."

To serve this need for an evaluative technique, Alder is exploring one approach, called Rapfish. Short for "Rapid Appraisal for the Status of Fisheries," Rapfish was originally developed at the Fisheries Centre of the University of British Columbia for evaluating the sustainability of fisheries. Alder has adapted it to evaluate MPA performance, and says it holds promise as a tool for managers to score their MPAs' performance quickly and across disciplines.

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Spurred by concerns that many MPA managers are insufficiently trained to provide effective resource protection, two projects on opposite sides of the world have begun preparing practitioners to handle the challenges of planning and management. Organized in the Caribbean and the Western Indian Ocean, the capacity-building projects have combined classroom-style lecture courses with discussions, field trips, and networking opportunities. [For a description of project funders and organizers, see box at end of article.]

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Despite the international distribution of many marine ecosystems, efforts to provide international management plans for them have been slow in coming. Transboundary ecosystems have generally received piecemeal protection at most, with only rare efforts by planners to coordinate conservation efforts across political lines. Ecosystems on the high seas have received virtually no protection, save for the UN-sponsored multilateral agreement to protect Antarctic waters.

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By Dan Holland, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, (US) National Marine Fisheries Service

[Editor's note: This article has been adapted by MPA News from a presentation given by Dan Holland on 7 July 2000 at the "Economics of MPAs" conference in Vancouver, BC, Canada. Holland is an economist.]

Whatever its objectives, the function of an MPA is to change (or preempt) the distribution of fishing effort in space, time, and possibly across species. The relevant question is whether the new distribution of effort will be superior to the current one and why.