Please select your home edition
Edition
Marina Exchange 728x90 1

Apathy towards poachers widespread in world’s marine protected areas

by coralcoe.org.au 31 Aug 2018 06:01 UTC
A local fisher waits for fish in his dugout canoe, while an industrial tuna ship glides by En-route to Wadau village, Karkar Island, Madang, Papua New Guinea © ARC CoE for Coral Reef Studies / Jacqueline Lau

A new study has found that nearly half of fishers from seven countries had witnessed someone poaching in marine protected areas in the past year and most of them did nothing about it.

Dr Brock Bergseth from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University led the study. He said poaching is widespread in the world's marine protected areas, and that fishers have the potential to make or break a marine protected area.

"Enforcement capacities are often limited, so managers are trying to encourage fishers to help out when they see someone breaking the law. But until now, we were uncertain about how fishers respond when they witness poaching."

The research team surveyed fishers in Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Costa Rica, and Australia.

Fishers told researchers that they typically did one of four things after witnessing poaching: "do nothing," "confront the poachers," "report them to authorities," or, in rare instances, "join the poachers."

"Unfortunately, the most common response was to 'do nothing,'" said Dr Bergseth.

Inaction was especially common on Australia's Great Barrier Reef (GBR).

"Nearly 80 percent of fishers on the GBR did nothing in response to the observed poaching," said Dr Bergseth. "This means there is a substantial portion of fishers who managers might hope to engage in surveillance and reporting, given the growing concern over the health of the GBR."

Co-author Dr Georgina Gurney said fishers offered a variety of the reasons for inactivity after witnessing poaching on the GBR.

"GBR fishers said that they did nothing when they saw others poaching mostly because they thought it wasn't their concern or their responsibility, they were uncertain as to whether it was illegal fishing, or because of obstacles to reporting."

In all of the other countries in the study, a desire to avoid conflict was the most common reason offered by fishers for inaction after witnessing poaching, said Dr Bergseth.

"This highlights the fact that dealing with poachers is potentially dangerous in some countries – defending environmental rights can be risky, but there are tools to greatly reduce or eliminate the risk."

"The bad news is that apathy towards poaching in marine protected areas is widespread," said co-author Dr Michele Barnes, "but the good news is that there are already many tools and programs to encourage citizens to report poaching and other types of crimes. These can be adapted and tailored to encourage fishers to take action against poaching in a responsible way that minimises risk to themselves."

The research team found that people who agreed with marine protected area rules and who were included in the decision-making processes were more likely to report or confront poachers.

"We know that when fishers are engaged in the management process of marine protected areas they tend to follow the rules more often. Here, we show that empowering fishers can also encourage voluntary enforcement," said Dr Barnes.

"Encouragingly, many of the fishers who took action did so because they held stewardship beliefs, or saw that poaching personally affected them. These ideas can be further reinforced and leveraged by managers to improve conservation outcomes," said Dr Gurney.

"The reality is that fish stocks are almost certainly going to be increasingly depleted in the future, to the point where poaching will affect all of us," said Dr Bergseth.

"Equipping fishers with this knowledge, and the resources to responsibly do something about it, may well be the deciding factor as to whether our kids enjoy the same resources we do," he said.

The paper "Addressing poaching in marine protected areas through voluntary surveillance and enforcement" is published today in Nature Sustainability.

Citation: Bergseth, B. J., et al. (2018). “Addressing poaching in marine protected areas through voluntary surveillance and enforcement.” Nature Sustainability 1(8): 421-426.

Related Articles

Sharks almost gone from many reefs
Finding of a massive global study of the world's reefs A massive global study of the world's reefs has found sharks are 'functionally extinct' on nearly one in five of the reefs surveyed. Posted on 25 Jul
Big vegetarians of the reef drive fish evolution
More than 6,000 fish species live on coral reefs across the globe A new study reveals the diets of reef fish dictate how fast different species evolve. The breakthrough adds another piece to the fascinating evolutionary puzzle of coral reefs and the fishes that live on them. Posted on 3 Jun
'Blue boats' rob Pacific reefs
The number of foreign fishing boats caught operating illegally has increased A flotilla of Vietnamese fishing boats with crews suffering in harsh conditions is stripping Pacific coral reefs of seafood as the poaching escalates to become an international human rights and security issue. Posted on 4 Dec 2019
Tracking baby fish for better reef management
Tracking the lives of thousands of tiny baby fish is no easy task A group of Australian scientists has created the world's first computer model that can accurately predict the movements of baby coral trout across the Great Barrier Reef. Posted on 3 Aug 2019
Breaking bread with rivals leads to more fish
Cooperation is key to most successful endeavours Dr Michele Barnes, a senior research fellow from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, is the lead author of study published today that looks at the relationships between competing fishers, the fish species they hunt, and their local reefs. Posted on 7 May 2019
Ocean currents bring good news for reef fish
Study looks at how fish on a bleached coral reef get their food Researchers have discovered some good news for fish populations living on coral reefs hit by climate change. Posted on 25 Apr 2019
Murky water keeps fish on edge
Fish become anxious and more cautious when water quality is degraded by sediment Associate Professor Jodie Rummer, Principal Research Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, based at JCU, says there is more sediment in coastal waters than ever before. Posted on 24 Dec 2018
150-million-year old flesh-eating fish
150-million-year old flesh-eating fish An international team of researchers have described a remarkable new species of fish that lived in the sea in the time of the dinosaurs in the late Jurassic about 150 million years ago. Posted on 28 Oct 2018
Finding Nemo's genes
An international team of researchers has mapped Nemo's genome In a breakthrough study led by the KAUST and the Coral CoE, researchers used high-tech sequencing tools to create one of the most complete genetic maps for the orange clownfish, a common reef inhabitant and star of the Disney movie, Finding Nemo. Posted on 20 Sep 2018
Coral bleaching not limited to shallow depths
2016 coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef also affected deep reefs Although deep reefs are often considered a refuge from thermal anomalies caused by global ocean warming, the new research highlights limitations to this role and argues that both shallow and deep reefs are under threat of mass bleaching events. Posted on 7 Sep 2018
Marina Exchange FOOTER 1