Incorporating feasibility and collaboration into large-scale planning for regional recovery of coral reef fisheries

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Broad-scale overharvesting of fish is one of the major drivers of marine biodiversity loss and poverty, particularly in countries with high dependence on coral reefs. Given the heterogeneity of fishing effort and management success, and the scarcity of management resources, it is necessary to identify broad-scale locations for promoting successful fisheries management and conservation. Here, we assessed how fisheries management and conservation priorities in the Western Indian Ocean would change if the objectives were to (1) minimize lost fishing opportunity, (2) minimize the time for fish biomass to recover, (3) avoid locations of low management feasibility based on historical management outcomes, and (4) incorporate international collaboration to optimize the rate for achieving goals. When prioritizing for rapid recovery of fish biomass rather than minimizing lost fishing opportunity, we found that the area of priority management zones changed by over 60% in some countries. When locations of low management feasibility were avoided, the recovery time of fish biomass across the region increased 4-fold. International collaborations prioritized management zones in remote, high biomass, and low fishing pressure reefs and reduced the recovery time of fish 5-fold compared to non-collaboration scenarios. Thus, many of these conservation objectives favored wealthy and sparsely populated over poorer and natural resource dependent countries. Consequently, this study shows how prioritization policies, incentives, decisions, and conflicts will produce highly variable outcomes and challenges for sustainability.

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