Cease or prohibit all commercial fishing
Overall effectiveness category Awaiting assessment
Number of studies: 8
View assessment score
Hide assessment score
How is the evidence assessed?
Background information and definitions
Commercial fishing is extraction of marine organisms by any method for sale and profit. It is one of the most widespread human activities in our seas and oceans, and its biggest direct impact on fish is the potential removal of huge quantities of target fish species over large areas. Commercial fishing is done with nearly every gear type, many of which are not highly selective, catching unwanted fish that cannot be sold and so are returned to the sea, often dead or with reduced survival prospects (Benoit et al. 2013; Depestele et al. 2014). If left uncontrolled, commercial fishing can cause depletions, or even total collapse, of entire fish populations (Hutchings & Reynolds 2004; Dickey-Collas et al. 2010). Ceasing or banning all commercial fishing in an area can significantly reduce the overall fishing pressure to levels that should allow commercially targeted fish populations to recover from over-fishing or to maintain existing healthy levels. Prohibiting commercial fishing types may also indirectly benefit non-commercially targeted fish species by reducing disturbance and damage to habitats by the gears used. This intervention is often, but not always, implemented in marine protected areas.
Evidence for similar interventions relating to the ceasing or prohibiting of commercial fishing activity by different gear types is summarized throughout the ‘Spatial and Temporal Management’ section.
Benoit H.P., Plante S., Kroiz M. & Hurlbut T. (2013) A comparative analysis of marine fish species susceptibilities to discard mortality: effects of environmental factors, individual traits, and phylogeny. ICES Journal of Marine Science, 70, 99–113.
Depestele J., Desender M., Benoit H.P., Polet H. & Vincx M. (2014) Short-term survival of discarded target fish and non-target invertebrate species in the "eurocutter" beam trawl fishery of the southern North Sea. Fisheries Research, 154, 82–92.
Dickey-Collas M., Nash R.D.M., Brunel T., van Damme C.J.G., Marshall C.T., Payne M.R., Corten A., Geffen A.J., Peck M.A., Hatfield E.M.C., Hintzen N.T., Enberg K., Kell L.T. & Simmonds E.J. (2010) Lessons learned from stock collapse and recovery of North Sea herring: a review. ICES Journal of Marine Science, 67, 1875–1886.
Hutchings J.A. & Reynolds J.D. (2004) Marine Fish Population Collapses: Consequences for Recovery and Extinction Risk. BioScience, 54, 297–309.
Supporting evidence from individual studies
A site comparison study in 1992–2005 of three rocky areas in the northwest Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Spain (Rius & Zabala 2008) found that two to 13 years after commercial fishing was prohibited in a partially fished zone of a marine reserve, there was no increase in the biomass of white seabream Diplodus sargus and gilthead bream Sparus aurata compared to an unprotected fished area. Across all years, the average biomasses of white and gilthead bream were similar between partially fished (white: 5.9 g/m2, gilthead: 0.1 g/m2) and fished areas (white: 6.1 g/m2, gilthead: 0.2 g/m2). However, both were lower compared to a no-take zone of the reserve, unfished for over nine years (white: 19.1 g/m2, gilthead: 0.8 g/m2). Fish were sampled annually from 1992–2005 at three nearby sites, up to 2 km apart: a partial reserve (angling permitted only, no collection of subtidal animals since 1990); a fished stretch of coastline; and a no-take reserve in the Medes Islands Marine Protected area (no extractive activities, since 1983). Numbers of fish at each site were recorded by underwater visual transects (no further sampling details were provided).Study and other actions tested
A before-and-after, site comparison study in 2001–2005 of a mangrove and saltmarsh estuary in the Tasman Sea, New South Wales, Australia (Saintilan et al. 2008) found that two years following closure to commercial fishing, there was a different fish assemblage and lower abundance of most species compared to before the closure, and a similar change was found at one of two reference sites in adjacent estuaries. The fish assemblage at the estuary closed to commercial fishing differed before and after closure and overall abundances (mangrove and saltmarsh habitats combined) of only two of the 12 main fish species increased, while the rest decreased (data reported as statistical results - see original paper). The fish assemblage at one of two reference sites in similar nearby estuaries also differed following the closure and no change was observed at the other (data reported as statistical results). The authors suggested that the reported decline in abundance may have been due to an increase in predation by larger fish after the closure. Botany Bay was closed to commercial fishing (netting and trapping) in mid-2002. Fish were surveyed at the Towra Point Nature Reserve in Botany Bay and two nearby reference sites (no details of fishing activity were reported), in June-August and December-February immediately prior to (2001–2002) and two years after (2004–2005) the closure. Fish were sampled using 4 m fyke nets set at 50 m intervals: four replicate deployments in saltmarsh habitat and two in mangroves/site before the closure, increased to three deployments in mangroves after.Study and other actions tested
A replicated, controlled study in 1994–1995 of five areas of seabed in the Greenland Sea, off northwest Iceland (Schopka et al. 2010) reported that prohibiting all or some commercial fishing in marine protected areas and other areas closed to trawling, provided more protection from fishing for immature cod Gadus morhua, whose movement patterns indicate they are relatively stationary, but not for the migratory adults. The spatial distribution of recaptured cod over time was similar for all sites and tagging years, and there were no differences between cod tagged inside protected areas compared to outside (data reported graphically). However, there were clear seasonal and size-based differences over time, and the proportion of small cod recaptured at sizes <55 cm was lower for the area with the highest level of protection from fishing (4–9%) than most of the fished areas (7%, 21% and 25%), and the other marine protected area (15%). In addition, for small cod but not large cod, distance from areas of higher fishing intensity may also have influenced recapture patterns. Tagging surveys took place within five areas in July 1994 and June 1995 using two types of conventional tags. A total of 5,173 small cod (40–54 cm) were tagged in five areas: a marine protected area closed permanently to commercial fishing since 1993 (1,687 cod); a protected area closed to otter trawling and longlining since 1993, but open to a seasonal fishery (Oct-Mar) since 1997 (572 cod); two nearby inshore areas closed to trawling (1,916 cod); and one nearby area with no fishing restrictions (998 cod). Data on cod recaptures were analysed from a subset (224, anchor tags only) of the 719 (14%) tag returns made by fishers to the Marine Research Institute from 1994–2000. Most recaptured fish (78–94%, depending on tagging area) were caught in the first 3 years after tagging.Study and other actions tested
A replicated, site comparison study in 2005 of five coral reef sites in the Indian Ocean, off the coasts of South Africa and Mozambique (Currie et al. 2012) found that five years after prohibiting commercial fishing in partially protected areas of two marine reserves, there was an increased abundance of three of 12 commercially targeted and non-targeted fish species/groups, compared to unprotected fished areas, and overall, fish were larger. Average abundance was higher in the partially fished areas than openly fished areas for groupers Epinephelinae spp. (0.7 vs 0.3 fish/count), yellow-edged lyretail Variola louti (0.3 vs 0.1 fish/count) and butterflyfish Chaetodontidae (3.2 vs 2.6 fish/count). Similar abundances between areas were recorded for snappers Lutjanus spp. (0.3 vs 0.5 fish/count), two-spot red snapper Lutjanus bohar (0.1 vs 0.0 fish/count), emperorfish Lethrinidae (0.1 vs 0.0 fish/count), surgeonfish Acanthuridae (6.2 vs 10.0), goldbar wrasse Thalassoma hebraicum (2.3 vs 1.9 ), grunts Plectorhinchus spp. (0.1 vs 0.2) and parrotfish Scaridae (1.1 vs 1.3). In partially fished areas abundances were lower than in openly fished areas for green jobfish Aprion viriscens (0.0 vs 0.3 fish/count) and jacks Caranx/Carangoides spp. (0.3 vs 2.1 fish/count). Average fish size (reported a standardised measure) was higher in partly fished (58) than openly fished areas (48). In April 2005, fish were sampled at four partly protected areas (limited non-commercial/non-trawl fishing types and diving permitted, next to no-take reserve areas) of two adjacent marine reserves (designated 1999), and at five openly fished sites outside the reserves (two adjacent and three >200 km away). At each site, divers counted selected fish species >7 cm in length, along two replicates of bisecting transect pairs 25 m long and 5m wide. Point counts (22–32) were also conducted at each site in a 5 m radius, separated by 20 m. Data were analysed for seven coral-dominated sites (three part protected and two open).Study and other actions tested
A before-and-after, site comparison study in 1999–2011 of a large managed reef area in the Gulf of Mexico, Florida, USA (5) found that fish densities in an area of a marine reserve where commercial fishing had been prohibited for over 30 years, varied with level of commercial exploitation over a ten-year period and immediately following conversion of half of the area to no-take (no fishing), and abundances of five of five commercially exploited species were greater compared to adjacent openly fished areas. For five of five commercially targeted fish, increases in density were detected in 2–7 surveys (out of 7) in the non-commercially fished area and there were no decreases, while in the fished areas an increase in density was detected in one of four surveys and density decreased in two to three. For 11 non-target fish species, five species collected for the aquaria trade and two protected groupers Epinephelus spp., changes in density fluctuated between years in both areas (see paper for species individual data). In addition, adult percentage abundances of the five commercial species increased overall in the non-commercially fished area from baseline levels (1999–2000) of 49–71% to 54–87% in 2008–2010 (a year after half of the area was made no-take), while abundances in openly fished areas showed overall decreases (1999–2000: 9–27%, 2008–2010: 1–23%). Fish were monitored in two areas of the Dry Tortugas region with different levels of management protection: Dry Tortugas National Park (~320 km2, fishing prohibited except hook and line angling since the 1960s; half of the area designated as no-take in 2007) and an area with open access to commercial and recreational fishing. Both areas were adjacent to other no-take reserves. Baseline fish surveys were done in 1999–2000 (two surveys) and monitoring surveys every one or two years from 2002–2011 (seven surveys in non-commercially fished and four in fished areas). A total of 8,106 diver visual counts were done in a two-stage stratified random sampling design. Numbers of reef fish were recorded in randomly selected circular plots 15 m in diameter.Study and other actions tested
Referenced paperAult J.S., Smith S.G., Bohnsack J.A., Luo J., Zurcher N., McClellan D.B., Ziegler T.A., Hallac D.E., Patterson M., Feeley M.W., Ruttenberg B.I., Hunt J., Kimball D. & Causey B. (2013) Assessing coral reef fish population and community changes in response to marine reserves in the Dry Tortugas, Florida, USA. Fisheries Research, 144, 28-37.
A before-and-after study in 1994–2005 of a large area of soft, shelly mud seabed in the South China Sea, Hong Kong, China (Tam et al. 2013) found that after prohibiting commercial fishing in two protected marine reserves as mitigation for a large-scale land reclamation project, fish species composition in the wider region changed, overall fish density increased but species richness decreased, in the five years after implementation. Fish species composition changed in the period after both reserves were established (2001–2005) compared to before (1994–1999) (data reported as graphical analysis). Fish densities in the region were higher overall after both reserves were established than before (after: 97,000–280,000 fish/km2, before: 11,000–12,000 fish/km2), but peaked in 2003 before declining in 2004 and 2005. Over the same period, fish species richness decreased (after: 84–103, before: 127–140 species). Between December 1992 and early 1996, a huge coastal development to reclaim 9.4 km2 of land from the sea north of Lantau Island was completed in the study area. To reduce impacts on dolphin habitats, two nearby and adjacent marine reserves (12 km2 and 460 km2) were created in December 1996 and October 1999 respectively, zones of which prohibited commercial fishing and other human activities. Fish were sampled at 1–6 sites/survey in an area up to 10 km from the reclaimed land by beam trawl (total 882 deployments), annually from 1994–1995 and 1999–2005. Catch data from sampling sites, including one in the smaller of the reserves, were pooled for each year.Study and other actions tested
A site comparison study of an area of reef, sand and kelp in the South Atlantic Ocean, off the coast of South Africa (Roberson et al. 2015) found that prohibiting commercial fishing in a marine protected area for 40 years increased the abundance of one of four commercially targeted fish species compared to unprotected fished areas outside, but did not increase overall fish diversity or change species composition. Average abundance was higher inside the non-commercially fished area than outside for hottentot Pachymetopon blochii (inside: 5.0, outside: 2.6 max. number) and was similar between areas for roman seabream Chrysoblephus laticeps (1.3 vs 0.9 max. number), panga seabream Pterogymnus laniarus (6.7 vs 4.3 max. number) and carpenter seabream Argyrozona argyrozona (1.6 vs 1.1 max. number). Numbers of species, diversity (Shannon-Wiener values) and overall fish species composition were similar inside (no. species: 34, Shannon-Wiener: 1.73) and outside (no. species: 39, Shannon-Wiener: 1.43) the non-commercially fished area. Fish were surveyed inside and outside the Betty’s Bay Marine Protected Area (20 km2, commercial fishing prohibited but recreational fishing allowed since 1973). Four steel baited remote underwater video cameras were simultaneously deployed for one hour at 30 stations within and 28 stations in adjacent areas outside the protected area. For each video camera, all fish species and the maximum number of any species in a single frame 35 cm off the seabed and centred on a bait canister 1 m away were recorded. The earliest the survey took place was in 2012 but no details of sampling times were provided.Study and other actions tested
A replicated, site comparison study in 2002–2012 of eight rocky coral reef sites in the Tasman Sea, New South Wales, Australia (Malcolm et al. 2016) found that in areas of a marine park where commercial trapping was prohibited, there was a higher abundance of some fish species or groups over a 10 year period following implementation, compared to park areas open to commercial trapping. Abundances varied between years, but overall average abundances of two of 10 targeted fish species/groups and one of two non-targeted groups were higher at non-commercially fished areas than commercially fished areas, one targeted species was lower and the rest were similar between areas (data reported as statistical results and presented graphically for some species only). Fish assemblages were monitored annually in 2002–2007, 2009 and 2012, at eight sites, in the Solitary Islands Marine Park: two sites in each of two management areas where recreational fishing but no commercial fish trapping was permitted (>200 ha); and four sites in areas where commercial trapping and recreational fishing were permitted. The park was originally designated in 1991 and rezoned in 2002. At each site, fish were surveyed by six underwater visual transects (125 m2) and three replicate five-minute timed-swim counts (250 m2).Study and other actions tested
Where has this evidence come from?
List of journals searched by synopsis
All the journals searched for all synopses
This Action forms part of the Action Synopsis:Marine Fish Conservation