Marine protected areas, and other fishery management systems that impart partial or total protection from fishing, are increasingly advocated as an essential management tool to ensure the sustainable use of marine resources. Beneficial effects for fish species are well documented for tropical and reef systems, but the effects of marine protected areas remain largely untested in temperate waters. We compared trends in sportfishing catches of nine fish species in an area influenced by a large (500-km²) towed-fishing-gear restriction zone and in adjacent areas under conventional fishery management controls. Over the period 1973-2002 the mean reported weight of above-average-sized (trophy) fish of species with early age at maturity and limited home range was greatest within the area influenced by the fishing-gear restriction zone. The reported weight of trophy fish of species that mature early also declined less and more slowly over time within the area influenced by the fishing-gear restriction zone. Importantly, the mean reported weight of trophy fish of species that mature late and those that undertake extensive spatial movements declined at the same rate in all areas. Hence these species are likely to require protected areas >500 km² for effective protection. Our results also indicated that fish species with a localized distribution or high site fidelity may require additional protection from sport fishing to prevent declines in the number or size of fish within the local population.