Food security remains a principal challenge in the developing tropics where communities rely heavily on marine-based protein. In these regions, a large fraction of coastal fisheries remain unmanaged, mismanaged, or use only crude input controls. These conditions often lead to severe overfishing, depleted stocks, and compromised food security.

A possible fishery management approach in these institution-poor settings in to implement fully protected marine protected areas (MPAs). Although the primary aim of MPAs has been to solve conservation problems, MPAs can also benefit fisheries beyond their borders.

This study integrated four key biological and ecological variables as well as MPA size into a general model and determined their combined influence on food security when MPAs are implemented in an open-access setting.

The authors found that the MPA size that optimizes catch depends strongly on economic variables. Large MPAs optimize catch for species heavily harvested for their high value and/or low harvesting cost, while small MPAs or no closure are best for species lightly harvested for their low value and high harvesting cost.

It was also found that, contrary to previous theoretical expectations, both high and low mobility species are expected to experience conservation benefits from protection (but higher benefits are expected for low mobility species). The authors highlight that food security benefits from MPAs can be obtained from species of any mobility. Altogether, results deliver both qualitative insights and quantitative guidance for designing MPAs for food security in open-access fisheries.

Cabral et al. (2019) Designing MPAs for food security in open-access fisheries. Scientific Reports. 9:8033.