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Marine protected areas (MPAs) are conservation tools that are increasingly implemented, with growing national commitments for MPA expansion. Perhaps the greatest challenge to expanded use of MPAs is the perceived trade-off between protection and food production. Since MPAs can benefit both conservation and fisheries in areas experiencing overfishing and since overfishing is common in many coastal nations, we ask how MPAs can be designed specifically to improve fisheries yields. We assembled distribution, life history, and fisheries exploitation data for 1,338 commercially important stocks to derive an optimized network of MPAs globally. We show that strategically expanding the existing global MPA network to protect an additional 5% of the ocean could increase future catch by at least 20% via spillover, generating 9 to 12 million metric tons more food annually than in a business-as-usual world with no additional protection. Our results demonstrate how food provisioning can be a central driver of MPA design, offering a pathway to strategically conserve ocean areas while securing seafood for the future.

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