Exploring Trade-Offs between Fisheries and Conservation of the Vaquita Porpoise (Phocoena sinus) Using an Atlantis Ecosystem Model
Minimizing fishery bycatch threats might involve trade-offs between maintaining viable populations and economic benefits. Understanding these trade-offs can help managers reconcile conflicting goals. An example is a set of bycatch reduction measures for the Critically Endangered vaquita porpoise (Phocoena sinus), in the Northern Gulf of California, Mexico. The vaquita is an endemic species threatened with extinction by artisanal net bycatch within its limited range; in this area fisheries are the chief source of economic productivity.
We analyze trade-offs between conservation of the vaquita and fisheries, using an end-to-end Atlantis ecosystem model for the Northern Gulf of California. Atlantis is a spatially-explicit model intended as a strategic tool to test alternative management strategies. We simulated increasingly restrictive fisheries regulations contained in the vaquita conservation plan: implementing progressively larger spatial management areas that exclude gillnets, shrimp driftnets and introduce a fishing gear that has no vaquita bycatch. We found that only the most extensive spatial management scenarios recovered the vaquita population above the threshold necessary to downlist the species from Critically Endangered. The scenario that excludes existing net gear from the 2008 area of vaquita distribution led to moderate decrease in net present value (US$ 42 million) relative to the best-performing scenario and a two-fold increase in the abundance of adult vaquita over the course of 30 years.
Extended spatial management resulted in the highest recovery of the vaquita population. The economic cost of proposed management actions was unequally divided between fishing fleets; the loss of value from finfish gillnet fisheries was never recovered. Our analysis shows that managers will have to confront difficult trade-offs between management scenarios for vaquita conservation.