Evaluating the effect of fishery closures: lessons learnt from the Plaice Box

Doug Beare, Adriaan D. Rijnsdorp, Mette Blæsbjerg, Ulrich Damm, Josefine Egekvist, Heino Fock, Matthias Kloppmann, Christine Röckmann, Alexander Schroeder, Torsten Schulze, Ingrid Tulp, Clara Ulrich, Ralf van Hal, Tobias van Kooten, Marieke Verweij

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To reduce discarding of plaice Pleuronectes platessa in the North Sea flatfish fisheries, the major nursery areas were closed to large trawlers in 1995. The area closed was named the ‘Plaice Box’ (PB) and beam trawl effort fell by over 90% , while the exemption fleets of small flatfish beam trawlers, gill netters targeting sole (Solea solea) and shrimp (Crangon crangon) trawlers increased their effort. Contrary to the expectation, plaice landings and biomass declined. The initial support for the PB from the fisheries was lost, whereas other
stakeholder groups claimed that any failure was due to the fact that fishing had never been completely prohibited in the area. To evaluate whether the PB has been an effective management measure, the changes in the ecosystem (plaice, demersal fish, benthos) and fisheries are analysed to test whether the observed changes are due to the PB or to changes in the environment unrelated to the PB. Juvenile growth rate of plaice decreased and juveniles moved to deeper waters outside the PB. Demersal fish biomass decreased, whereas the abundance of epibenthic predators (Asterias rubens and Cancer pagurus) increased in the PB. Endobenthos, in particular the main food items of plaice (polychaetes and small bivalves) remained stable or decreased both inside and outside the PB. Currently
catches of both plaice and sole from within the PB are lower than in the late 1980s and the exemption fleet often prefers to fish outside the Plaice Box alongside much larger competitors. It is concluded that the observed changes are most likely related to changes in the North Sea ecosystem, which may be related to changes in eutrophication and temperature. It is less likely that they are related to the change in fishing. This case study highlights the importance setting testable objectives and an appropriate evaluation framework including both ecological and socio-economic indicators when implementing closed areas.
Key words: Marine Protected Area, MPA, spatial management, fisheries management, discards, climate change, trawling impact, North Sea, benthos, ecosystem change, stakeholder perception
Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Sea Research
Pages (from-to)49-60
Publication statusPublished - 2013

Cite this

Beare, D., Rijnsdorp, A. D., Blæsbjerg, M., Damm, U., Egekvist, J., Fock, H., Kloppmann, M., Röckmann, C., Schroeder, A., Schulze, T., Tulp, I., Ulrich, C., Hal, R. V., Kooten, T. V., & Verweij, M. (2013). Evaluating the effect of fishery closures: lessons learnt from the Plaice Box. Journal of Sea Research, 84, 49-60. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.seares.2013.04.002