Area-Based Management Tools With Respect to Pelagic and International Fisheries

Our Western Pacific Region has the largest marine jurisdiction expanding 1.5 million square miles and includes one state (Hawaii), two territories (American Samoa and Guam), one commonwealth (Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, CNMI), and several Pacific Remote Island Areas. By virtue, the Council and its advisory bodies are extremely interested in area-based management tools, which go beyond simple conventional wisdom of marine protected areas.

The Council hosted the International Workshop on Area-Based Management of Blue Water Fisheries from June 15 to 17, 2020.  The workshop included 34 participants from all over the globe. The panelists and participants included top area-based fishery management experts from Intergovernmental agencies, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), regional fisheries management organizations (RFMOs), and academia, many of whom bridge the gap between science and policy. The workshop was co-chaired by world-renowned scientists Dr. Ray Hilborn (University of Washington) and Dr. Vera Agostini (United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization).

For more information, click here.

Access to Workshop Documents:

  1. Agenda
  2. Road Map to Effective Area-Based Management of Blue Water Fisheries Including Workshop Proceedings

Emerging from the Workshop were two noteworthy publications (see below). Workshop participants were invited to serve as co-authors on a 2021 Publication in Fish and Fisheries:  “Area-based management of blue water fisheries: Current knowledge and research needs.” This paper was lead by an Council SSC member as first author and Council staff as senior author.

Access “Area‐based management of blue water fisheries: Current knowledge and research needs.”


The pelagic fisheries beyond the continental shelves are currently managed with a range of tools largely based on regulating effort or target catch. These tools comprise both static and dynamic area-based approaches to include gear limitations, closed areas, and bycatch limits. There are increasing calls for additional area-based interventions, particularly expansion of marine protected areas, with many now advocating closing 30% of the oceans to fishing. In this paper we review the objectives, methods, and successes of area-based management of blue water fisheries across objectives related to food production and environmental, social and economic impacts. We also consider the methods used to evaluate the performance of area-based regulations and provide a summary of the relative quality of evidence from alternative evaluation approaches. We found that few area-based approaches have been rigorously evaluated, and that it is often difficult to obtain requisite observational data to define a counterfactual to infer any causal effect for such evaluation. Management agencies have been relatively successful at maintaining important commercial species at or near their target abundance, but success at meeting ecological or social goals is less clear. The high mobility of both target and bycatch species generally reduces the effectiveness of area-based management, and shifting distributions due to climate change suggest that adaptive rather than static approaches will be preferred. We prioritize research and management actions that would make area-based management more effective.

In 2022, SSC member Ray Hilborn and Council staff Mark Fitchett co-authored a paper addressing issues noted in the 2020 Workshop and their 2021 paper. This paper focused on dynamic vs static protected areas to reduce bycatch or incidental catch of threatened species in fisheries.

Click here to Access “Trade-offs between bycatch and target catches in static versus dynamic fishery closures”.


The incidental catch of threatened species is still one of the main barriers to fisheries sustainability. What would happen if we closed 30% of the ocean to fishing with the goal of reducing bycatch? Analyzing 15 different fisheries around the globe, we found that under static area management, such as classic no-take marine area closures, observed bycatch could be reduced by 16%. However, under dynamic ocean management based on observed bycatch and closing the same total area but fragmented in smaller areas that can move year to year, that reduction can increase up to 57% at minimal or no loss of target catch.