Fisheries benefit from protected marine areas, as eggs, larvae and adult fish spill over into adjacent fishing grounds. But reserves should benefit fishermen too (Nature 463, 1007; 2010). This encourages their compliance, which is essential for fisheries' success.

The real-world fight of fishermen against fishing bans increases the uncertainty in fisheries modelling. Change will come only once fishermen are more involved in conservation and sustainable practices, for example by helping in management experiments or in setting up protected areas under the guidance of scientists.

This has been done successfully in the Torre Guaceto marine reserve in Italy — a country where enforcement and compliance are often weak. Fishermen were involved from the outset when the reserve's management changed five years ago. They participated in refining the management protocol to respect their own traditions and customs, and in monitoring results and decision-making.

When part of the reserve was opened to fishing, they soon saw their income start to increase. They willingly tailored their fishing to comply with agreements reached by marine ecologists and managers on the basis of scientific data. Yields have consistently been roughly double those from fishing grounds outside the reserve (P.G. and J.C. Conserv. Biol. 24, 312–318; 2010).

This success has boosted the trust between fishermen and scientists. The fishermen feel responsible for managing 'their' stock and for enforcing the co-managed framework. Policy-makers now aim to extend this co-management approach to the country's other marine reserves.