GRANTS PASS, Ore.— Scientists now have hard evidence from a study conducted in Hawaii for something they have long believed — that establishing no-fishing zones in the ocean will help replenish fish populations far away that have been over-harvested.
Authors of the study published online Wednesday in the peer-reviewed journal PLoS ONE said it bolsters scientific evidence for establishing marine reserves in coastal waters, which have faced stiff opposition from the fishing industry.
Lead author Mark Christie of Oregon State University said they used DNA sampling on 1,073 yellow tang, a popular aquarium fish, off the Kona Coast of Hawaii in 2006 and found their offspring were as far as 114 miles away. Two fish in unprotected areas were genetically linked to parents inside protected areas.
The study was funded by Conservation International.
Previously, the idea that tiny larvae spawned inside marine reserves would be widely dispersed by ocean currents was based on computer models. Christie said the study should help locate marine reserves to maximize their effectiveness at reseeding depleted fishing areas.
"Logic dictates that the larvae that come out of marine protected areas have to go somewhere," said Stephen Palumbi, professor of marine sciences at Stanford University, who did not take part in the study. "What this study has done is provide really the first very direct evidence of this happening over a broader scale.
"The more evidence we have about how these things work … the easier it is to promote them as a good management method."
State and federal governments and conservation groups have been creating reserves to conserve and replenish fish stocks depleted by overfishing. But they have been opposed by the fishing industry, which has demanded scientific evidence for reducing the places they can make their living.
California this month created a new series of no-fishing zones from the Mexican border to Santa Barbara, and fishing industry groups have threatened lawsuits. In Oregon, only two reserves have been created during years of wrangling, and they are not yet enforced. Three more have been proposed.
Peter Moyle, professor of fisheries at the University of California at Davis, cautioned that the study is for one species of fish and one reef system, and should be replicated, especially for rockfish off the coast of California. He added that he expected a study there would come up with similar results. Moyle did not participate in the study.