Indigenous people such as the Maori and other Polynesians traditionally maintain that the mauri (life force) of the ocean must be protected if humans are to prosper. This is echoed by the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, which permits only sustainable fishing activity and aims to protect marine biodiversity. However, far too few governments are honouring that commitment.
Simply making fisheries responsible for conserving nature (R. Hilborn Nature 535, 224–226; 2016) may not work because of the conflict of interest with maximizing catch. In our view, fisheries should instead be under the jurisdiction of agencies whose primary responsibility is to protect biodiversity. Conservation is already using simpler, easy-to-manage and cost-effective methods to protect fisheries, and more than 90% of marine protected areas (MPAs) allow fishing that supports sustainable fisheries (M. J. Costello and B. Ballantine Trends Ecol. Evol. 30, 507–509; 2015).
Integrating fisheries into conservation agencies would prioritize the health of ecosystems, for example by establishing marine reserves (no-take MPAs). Very large examples of such reserves have recently been created by indigenous Pacific islanders in Palau and Kiribati (see also Nature 539, 13–14; 2016). These safe havens can provide stock and spillover for fisheries, as well as baselines for unfished ecosystems and other benefits.