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