No-take marine reserves are widely recognized as an effective conservation tool for protecting marine resources. Despite considerable empirical evidence that abundance and biomass of fished species increase within marine reserve boundaries, the potential for reserves to provide fisheries and conservation benefits to adjacent waters remains heavily debated. This paper uses statistical and population models to evaluate published empirical data on adult spillover from marine reserves and shows that spillover is a common phenomenon for species that respond positively to reserve protection, but at relatively small scales, detectable on average up to 800 m from reserve boundaries. At these small scales, local fisheries around reserves were likely unsustainable in 12 of 14 cases without the reserve, and spillover partially or fully offsets losses in catch due to reserve closure in the other two cases. For reserves to play a role in sustaining and replenishing larger-scale fished stocks, networks of reserves may be necessary, but as few exist this is difficult to evaluate. The results suggest reserves can simultaneously meet conservation objectives and benefit local fisheries adjacent to their boundaries.
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