Threatened sharks, skates and rays in the Mediterranean Sea, including critically endangered species, are more frequently caught within marine protected areas than in unprotected areas, a Nature Communications paper suggests. The findings highlight the need for improved management of these areas to ensure successful conservation outcomes in marine protected areas.
Marine protected and partially protected areas are promoted as a conservation tool for elasmobranchs — a subclass of fish including sharks, rays and skates — which were once widespread in the Mediterranean Sea, but have experienced declines due to overfishing. The impacts of small-scale fisheries on these species are largely understudied in the Mediterranean, with little fishing data available owing to a lack of tracking devices on fishing vessels. Small-scale fisheries, which represent the majority of operating fishing vessels in this region, are known to impact elasmobranchs, but understanding whether partially protected areas in the Mediterranean protect these species remains challenging.
Manfredi Di Lorenzo and colleagues used photo-sampling and image analysis to compile a database covering 1,256 small-scale fishing operations across 11 locations in France, Italy, Spain, Croatia, Slovenia and Greece. They then used statistical models to show that catches of threatened species were higher in partially protected areas than unprotected areas, suggesting that small-scale fisheries may be impacting these species.
The authors argue that partially protected areas play an important role in protecting threatened elasmobranchs, but additional management measures and stronger compliance are needed to conserve these species. The authors recommend that management is also improved in other areas around the world where these fisheries predominate.
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