For the last few years now I have been working with a fantastic group of colleagues on research into the effectiveness of periodically harvested fisheries closures.
Widely implemented by local communities across Melanesia, periodically harvested closures (PHCs) are fisheries closures that have opening regimes that can range from mostly closed to mostly open. PHCs evolved primarily to serve social and cultural objectives. For example in Fiji and Papua New Guinea, communities traditionally closed areas of fishing ground for 100 days following the death of a respected community member; the tabu would then be opened to harvest fish for a funeral. In contemporary use however, PHCs are often expected to achieve a wide range of objectives, including maximising yields in the short-term, boosting fisheries sustainability in the long-term, AND contributing towards biodiversity conservation goals.
There are few empirical data measuring the effectiveness of PHCs, and it remains unclear whether they can achieve any or all of these objectives simultaneously, or what factors might be critical to their success. The variable nature of harvest regimes (i.e. how long closures are in place for, how often they are harvested, and how much biomass is removed during harvest) makes it more difficult to assess their effectiveness compared to permanent no-take marine reserves. Our research team has been working towards a better understanding of the effectiveness of PHCs against different objectives, using both modelling and empirical approaches and data from PHCs in Fiji.
For this workshop we were hosted by colleagues from CalPoly at the Whale Point Research Cabin on California’s Big Sur coast (past workshops have been hosted by UWA in Albany, Western Australia, and the Wildlife Conservation Society on Leleuvia Island, Fiji). We had amazing views out to sea (and the Big Creek State Marine Reserve) to inspire us, cold outdoor showers to kickstart our mornings, and cheese and wine supplied by colleagues from France for sundowners (see above). Oh, and a log fire to keep us warm – essential for us researchers from the tropics!
During the week we pushed five papers towards publication and also outlined our plans for future research. This next phase will focus on taking what we’ve learnt from modelling and empirical studies of PHCs back to the people who are using them, to learn how our new understanding might inform decision-making and help communities to better achieve their objectives.