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Effective Conservation and Management of Boundary-Spanning Fish and Fisheries

Julia Lawson, PhD Candidate, Bren School

Feb 22 2024 | 11:00 am PT MSI Auditorium / Online

Headshot of Julia Lawson
Julia Lawson



Advisor: Steve Gaines
Committee: Chris Costello, Mark Buntaine


Fish move through the ocean unaware of the socially-constructed spatial boundaries imposed on them by legal and administrative systems. The vast majority of marine species move beyond a single national jurisdiction and these species play a pivotal role in global food security. However, movement across boundaries increases competitive incentives among nations, leading to overfishing. One way to slow this ‘race to fish’ is by forming agreements, where countries come together to manage how marine resources are shared. Because agreements are self-enforcing, agreement success depends on the strategic manipulation of incentives. Here I measure how effective an existing agreement has been at preventing overfishing, how a different agreement that has failed to curb illegal fishing can use competition from aquaculture to reduce poaching, and how fish movement can incentivize a marine reserve agreement. First, I use an econometric approach to measure how effective a tuna agreement management measure has been at reducing fishing mortality for highly mobile, boundary-spanning tuna and billfishes. Next, I use a bioeconomic model to find new solutions for a failed international wildlife trade agreement, specifically examining how competitive responses to aquaculture can disrupt a lucrative illegal trade in Mexico. Finally, I create a dynamic and spatial game to examine how fish movement can incentivize the development of a bilateral transboundary marine reserve agreement, which can help countries meet their commitment to protect 30% of the ocean by 2030. These results demonstrate how successful agreements can resolve externalities generated from the movement of fish and fish products across boundaries, and how effective agreements can be measured and designed.


Julia is passionate about effective environmental policy. She applies novel methods to identify successful policies and advocates for new approaches where previous policies have failed. The goal of Julia's work is to see decision-makers advance science-backed policies that are new and promising. Thus, much of her research is designed with policymakers in mind. Julia received her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from Dalhousie University where she divided her time between Nova Scotia and the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences. Her senior thesis research focused on coral reef reproduction and recruitment. Julia also holds a Master of Science in Zoology from the University of British Columbia Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries, where she completed her research in peninsular Malaysia in collaboration with researchers from the University of Malaya. After receiving her BS, she went on to work as a research assistant in the Bahamas looking at invasive lionfish, she analyzed ancient deep-sea sponges on the Flemish Cap with the Department of Fisheries and Oceans Canada, and she worked on Heron Island in Australia as a research assistant for the University of Queensland. Following the completion of her MS, Julia worked as the Programme Officer for the IUCN Species Survival Commission Shark Specialist Group.

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