• Marine protected areas;
  • game theory;
  • weakest-link public goods;
  • bioeconomic modeling;
  • marine reserves

Abstract Marine protected areas (MPAs) are gaining momentum as tools within fisheries management. Although many studies have been conducted to their use and potential, only few authors have considered their use in the High Seas. In this paper, we investigate the effects of fish growth enhancing MPAs on the formation of regional fisheries management organisations (RFMOs) for highly migratory fish stocks. We argue that in absence of enforcement MPAs constitute a weakest-link public good, which can only be realized if everyone agrees. We combine this notion with a game theoretic model of RFMO formation to derive potentially stable RFMOs with and without MPAs. We find that MPAs generally increase the parameter range over which RFMOs are stable, and that they increase stability in a number of cases as compared to the case without MPAs. They do not necessarily induce a fully cooperative solution among all fishing nations. In summary, results of this paper suggest a positive role for MPAs in the High Seas.