MEPS 384:47-60 (2009)  -  doi:10.3354/meps08007

Long-term and spillover effects of a marine protected area on an exploited fish community

Ben Stobart1,*, Richard Warwick2, César González1, Sandra Mallol1, David Díaz1, Olga Reñones1, Raquel Goñi1

1Instituto Español de Oceanografía, Centro Oceanográfico de Baleares, Palma de Mallorca 07015, Spain
2Plymouth Marine Laboratory, Plymouth PL1 3DH, UK

ABSTRACT: We assessed the development of the exploited fish community inside and around the Columbretes Islands Marine Reserve (CIMR), a marine protected area (MPA), 8 to 16 yr after fishing ceased in the reserve. Sampling was by annual lobster trammel net fishing, an experimental technique used inside the CIMR, and on-board commercial operations in adjacent fishing grounds. We examined trends in combined fish abundance and biomass (catch per unit effort), species richness and diversity, size structure, trophic level and species composition of the community. Our results showed the CIMR fish community continued to change throughout the study period as (1) abundance and biomass increased, (2) mean body size and trophic level increased and (3) species composition changed according to a linear model. Relative to nearby fished areas the CIMR fish community had (1) higher abundance and biomass, (2) lower species diversity and higher taxonomic distinctness, (3) larger relative body size and (4) no difference in mean trophic level. We found clear evidence of spillover of fish from the CIMR to the adjacent fishery as commercial fish yields at the MPA border (<0.5 km from the boundary) increased continuously during the study period, despite being locally depleted due to fishing effort concentration (fishing the line). Furthermore, fish size and diversity at the border were intermediate between the CIMR and other fished zones, suggesting that this is a transitional zone influenced by this MPA. Our results show that changes in community abundance, biomass, size structure and species composition provide a clear and interpretable view of MPA recovery. Diversity indices are also useful; however, their interpretation is more difficult. We conclude that the creation of the CIMR has had a positive effect on the exploitable fish community and that there is evidence of exportation of biomass to the surrounding fishery. We highlight the advantage of using multiple community metrics to study changes in fish communities, yet recommend the need for caution when interpreting them.


KEY WORDS: Marine protected area · Fish community development · Spillover · Biomass · Diversity · Size spectra · Trophic level · Artisanal fishery · Mediterranean Sea


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Cite this article as: Stobart B, Warwick R, González C, Mallol S, Díaz D, Reñones O, Goñi R (2009) Long-term and spillover effects of a marine protected area on an exploited fish community. Mar Ecol Prog Ser 384:47-60

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