A rare opportunity to test hypotheses about potential fishery benefits of largescale closures was initiated in July 2004 when an additional 28.4% of the 348 000 km2 Great Barrier Reef (GBR) region of Queensland, Australia was closed to all fishing. Advice to the Australian and Queensland governments that supported this initiative predicted these additional closures would generate minimal (10%) initial reductions in both catch and landed value within the GBR area, with recovery of catches becoming apparent after three years. To test these predictions, commercial fisheries data from the GBR area and from the two adjacent (non-GBR) areas of Queensland were compared for the periods immediately before and after the closures were implemented. The observed means for total annual catch and value within the GBR declined from preclosure (2000-2003) levels of 12 780 Mg and Australian $160 million, to initial post-closure (2005-2008) levels of 8143 Mg and $102 million; decreases of 35% and 36% respectively. Because the reference areas in the non-GBR had minimal changes in catch and value, the beyond-BACI (before, after, control, impact) analyses estimated initial net reductions within the GBR of 35% for both total catch and value. There was no evidence of recovery in total catch levels or any comparative improvement in catch rates within the GBR nine years after implementation. These results are not consistent with the advice to governments that the closures would have minimal initial impacts and rapidly generate benefits to fisheries in the GBR through increased juvenile recruitment and adult spillovers. Instead, the absence of evidence of recovery in catches to date currently supports an alternative hypothesis that where there is already effective fisheries management, the closing of areas to all fishing will generate reductions in overall catches similar to the percentage of the fished area that is closed.
Fletcher, W. J., Kearney, R., Fletcher, W. J., & Nash, W. J. (2015). Large-scale expansion of no-take closures within the Great Barrier Reef has not enhanced fishery production. Ecological Applications, 25(5), 1187-1196. https://doi.org/10.1890/14-1427.1