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Scott Hamilton, Professor, Ichthyology, Moss Landing Marine Laboratories: Ocean Seminar Series

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Evaluating fish community responses across the California MPA network using collaborative fisheries research:

Scott's research focuses on the ecology of coastal marine fish, their role in nearshore ecosystems, and the response of these ecosystems to environmental change and human impacts. Using a combination of field experiments and observations, along with laboratory analyses, his lab focuses on research questions that range from early life stages of fish to whole ecosystems, including: (1) examination of early life history dynamics such as recruitment, selective mortality, and population linkages via larval dispersal; (2) investigation of the causes and consequences of demographic and life history variation among fish populations; and (3) evaluation of changes in the structure and function of kelp forest and coral reef communities associated with marine protection.

The California Collaborative Fisheries Research Program (CCFRP) is a community-based science program that employs volunteer anglers and standardized hook-and-line fishing surveys to monitor the responses of fish to marine protected areas (MPAs) across the state. With 15 years of data from Central California and 5 years of data statewide, this initiative evaluates changes in catch per unit effort (CPUE), size structure, and biomass inside and outside MPAs over time, as well as the effects of fishing pressure and MPA design attributes, such as age and size, on the strength of MPA responses.

Compelling evidence has been found statewide that MPAs are effective when compared to reference sites. These MPAs have shown increased CPUE, larger fish body size, and higher biomass for the vast majority of fished species. Furthermore, the strength of MPA responses has been demonstrated to be influenced by the amount of fishing pressure occurring outside the MPA, with stronger differences in fish biomass between MPA and reference sites observed in heavily fished areas. Additionally, stronger MPA responses have been noted in larger and/or older reserves.

Tag-recapture data has provided evidence of spillover of some individuals across MPA boundaries, with presumed benefits to fisheries. However, the data indicates that many fish species have small home ranges and tend to stay within the boundaries of the MPAs. Lastly, an examination of CPUE and biomass trends with increasing distance from MPA boundaries has revealed that fishing-the-line behavior and edge effects modify MPA responses in California.