Implementing marine protected areas to sustain fishing productivity in South Florida: an examination of the Research Natural Area Science Plan in the Dry Tortugas region

Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

M.S. Marine Biology

First Advisor

James Thomas

Second Advisor

David Kerstetter


With ever-expanding populations, humans have always sought new and alternate resources to feed the world. At first larger marine animals were difficult to capture; and with simple capture methods the oceans resources seemed inexhaustible. Graham’s Law 1943, states short of any controls or interventions the typical pattern for a fishery is to increase catch, lower standing stock biomass, leading to increased effort, which leads to increased catch. This cycle continues until a stock collapses.

As population increased, the number of boats also increased. Recreational boat numbers have increased since the 1950’s, while the commercial fishing fleet has remained relatively the same. Using boat ownership as a proxy of fishing effort in Florida, recreational fishing effort is a significant consideration to stocks.

Florida is the self-proclaimed “fishing capitol of the world” (FWC). Florida anglers spent $4.4 billion in 2006, supporting an estimated 75,000 jobs. In the Florida Keys in particular, increased fishing pressure from rapid regional human population growth and environmental changes associated with coastal development have raised concerns about fisheries sustainability and persistence of the coral-reef ecosystem. Intensive fishing has diminished top trophic levels and affected the ecological dynamics and resilience of fisheries.

In 2007, the National Park Service (NPS) and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) developed a science plan to better understand the Dry Tortugas importance to the sustainability of fishing in Florida. With background knowledge from fisheries science this paper will present and discuss the findings of the topics specified in the management plan, discussion will elucidate findings toward the well being of the reef-fish stocks to benefit the state resources.

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