Crop rotations in the sea: Increasing returns and reducing risk of collapse in sea cucumber fisheries

Rotational harvesting is one of the oldest management strategies applied to terrestrial and marine natural resources, with crop rotations dating back to the time of the Roman Empire. The efficacy of this strategy for sessile marine species is of considerable interest given that these resources are vital to underpin food security and maintain the social and economic wellbeing of small-scale and commercial fishers globally. We modeled the rotational zone strategy applied to the multispecies sea cucumber fishery in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and show a substantial reduction in the risk of localized depletion, higher long-term yields, and improved economic performance. We evaluated the performance of rotation cycles of different length and show an improvement in biological and economic performance with increasing time between harvests up to 6 y. As sea cucumber fisheries throughout the world succumb to overexploitation driven by rising demand, there has been an increasing demand for robust assessments of fishery sustainability and a need to address local depletion concerns. Our results provide motivation for increased use of relatively low-information, low-cost, comanagement rotational harvest approaches in coastal and reef systems globally.

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