Check out the latest paper from the Conservation Planning Group and the Cinner Research Group on the Human Dimensions of Coral Reefs.

If fished illegally, marine protected areas (MPAs) are unlikely reach their conservation objectives. Fishers’ compliance is necessary for effective MPAs. In this paper we answer critical questions for understanding and managing compliance. The paper is open access; feel free to share the DOI (see citation below).

Artisanal fishermen returning home
Photo from one of the study sites. Artisanal fishermen returning home. Coyote, Costa Rica.



Effective conservation depends largely on people’s compliance with regulations. We investigate compliance through the lens of fishers’ compliance with MPAs. MPAs are widely used tools for marine conservation and fisheries management. Studies show that compliance alone is a strong predictor of fish biomass within MPAs. Hence, fishers’ compliance is critical for MPA effectiveness. However, there are few empirical studies showing what factors influence fishers’ compliance with MPAs. Without such information, conservation planners and managers have limited opportunities to provide effective interventions. By studying 12 MPAs in a developing country (Costa Rica), we demonstrate the role that different variables have on fishers’ compliance with MPAs. Particularly, we found that compliance levels perceived by resource users were higher in MPAs (1) with multiple livelihoods, (2) where government efforts against illegal fishing were effective, (3) where fishing was allowed but regulated, (4) where people were more involved in decisions, and (5) that were smaller. We also provide a novel and practical measure of compliance: a compound variable formed by the number illegal fishers and their illegal fishing effort. Our study underlines the centrality of people’s behaviour in nature conservation and the importance of grounding decision making on the social and institutional realities of each location.


Arias, A., J. E. Cinner, R. E. Jones, and R. L. Pressey. 2015. Levels and drivers of fishers’ compliance with marine protected areas. Ecology and Society 20(4):19.

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