A new study of the Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) located between San Francisco and Morro Bay suggests that central California’s MPAs may eventually produce more and larger fishes than areas open to fishing, but the benefits could take time to accrue.

mpaThe study, published in the journal PLos One, was conducted by Rick Starr of California Sea Grant and Dean Wendt of Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. Together, they led a team of marine researchers and more than 700 volunteer fishermen to sample fish within and outside of four protected areas: Año Nuevo State Marine Conservation Area, and the Point Lobos, Piedras Blancas, and Point Buchon State Marine Reserves.

They found few significant differences between fish populations inside and outside of three reserves established in 2007. However, Point Lobos State Marine Reserve, which has been protected since 1973, is flourishing with more and bigger fish than its surrounding areas.

“We didn’t see much change that could be attributed to the MPA status,” said Starr, after reviewing the seven years of data. “These marine reserves are going to work, but they’re not a short term solution for commercial fisheries.”

The researchers believe this trend may be due to good conditions for fish outside the reserves. Stringent fishery regulations in California over the last decade have reduced fishing pressure, while ocean conditions favored successful reproduction for many of the species in the study.

Starr and Wendt also found that cold-water species take longer to recover than those living in tropical areas. In cold Central California waters, some fish live for more than 50 years, growing and breeding slowly.

One of the objectives of the project, which is funded by the Ocean Protection Council and California Sea Grant, is to work with agencies and fishermen to use the monitoring results for better fisheries management. These kinds of partnerships offer a number of benefits, including more eyes on the water to notice changes in the fisheries and better cost-effectiveness at gathering data.

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