In an article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), the authors, who modelled fishing vessel number, type and effort over the past 70 years, find a stark picture. They use Catch Per Unit Effort (CPUE) to quantify the health of fish stocks. They find that while fishing effort and capacity have more than doubled since 1950, the CPUE has decreased by a massive 80% for most countries. This means that while we develop bigger, better, faster fishing fleets, the fish we are trying to catch have declined at an eye watering rate.  


“We found that the global fishing fleet doubled between 1950 and 2015—from 1.7 to 3.7 million vessels. This has been driven by substantial expansion of the motorized fleet, particularly, of the powered-artisanal fleet. By 2015, 68% of the global fishing fleet was motorized.”

It’s undeniable that humans are to blame – the more we fish in an industrial, unsustainable fashion, the worse the fish stock depletion gets.   

What can be done? Marine Protected Areas (MPA) offer arguably the best method of ensuring a halt to the decline in fish stocks, and the related ocean ecosystem damage that goes hand in hand with large commercial fishing approaches. According to the MPA Atlas (which shows an excellent interactive map of MPAs), there are over 11 000 MPAs worldwide, covering 4.8% of the global ocean. Just under half of these are Highly Protected Reserves. 2.2% may seem like a ‘drop in the ocean’ but conserving these areas is not easy.  

One of the major challenges is stakeholder engagement, particularly with Large-scale MPAs (LSMPAs). Communities around MPAs can have difficulty buying into the concept – attitudes surrounding loss of livelihood and loss of access, coupled with a lack of appreciation of the importance of the protected area, lead to difficulty managing the protected status. In an article in Marine Policy reporting on the results of the global “Think Tank on the Human Dimensions of Large Scale Marine Protected Areas”, the authors say 

“Due to their sheer size, complex socio-political realities, and distinct local cultural perspectives and economic needs, implementing and managing LSMPAs successfully creates a number of human dimension challenges.”

The authors identify a range of best management practices for the human dimensions of MPAs. Included in these is: maintenance of livelihood and well being, social justice and empowerment. We believe that empowerment of people through provision of healthcare meets some of these needs and can be a valuable tool in maintaining the protection of not only protected areas on land, but those in our oceans as well. 

Read the full article in PNAS: Evolution of global marine fishing fleets and the response of fished resources

Read the full article in Marine Policy: Why people matter in ocean governance: Incorporating human dimensions into large-scale marine protected areas.