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James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au

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Call to get tough with ocean bandits

04
Aug 2006

Twenty of the world’s leading marine scientists have called for action by governments to halt the unsustainable plunder of the world’s ocean resources.

In letters to the international journal Science, they call for more countries to regulate the expanding and currently unsustainable trade in live fish collected from coral reefs, which threatens the livelihoods of millions of poor people.

This follows an earlier warning by 15 of the scientists about highly mobile “roving bandits” who clean out entire fisheries and then move on to the next resource beyond the reach of local authorities, taking advantage of slack world trade rules and ineffective fisheries management to sell their plunder.

The 20 Australian, British, Canadian, Chinese, Dutch, Italian, Swedish and US researchers are now calling for special attention to be paid to the fisheries and international trade in coral reef resources.

According to Professor Terry Hughes, Director of the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, the answer to the crisis in marine management lies in

  • extensive market reform
  • use of the precautionary principle
  • establishment of sea property rights, and
  • the building of multilevel institutions, from local to global, that can learn from and share each other’s experiences in how to successfully manage natural resources.

“We are already seeing that the intense targeting of key species by these mobile roving bandits can seriously destabilize marine systems, causing unpredictable collapses,” he says.

A team led by Cambridge University’s Dr. Andrea Manica has tracked an expanding wave of booms and busts in fisheries radiating out from Hong Kong, a major hub for international trade in live reef fish and other marine products.  He warns that areas such as the Red Sea, Persian Gulf and Eastern Pacific are at high risk of similar uncontrolled exploitation.  “Several countries at the edge of the expanding wave of exploitation have started management plans and are taking steps to control the live fish trade”, he says.

“The removal of key species like parrot fish – which keep coral reefs free of weed – impacts the health of the entire reef, especially when the corals are already stressed by climate change”, says Professor David Bellwood, a senior researcher at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies.

The Napoleon wrasse, a giant reef fish that commonly reaches 2m in length and lives for more than 30 years, is especially vulnerable. “This is the first commercial reef fish to be listed on CITES, (the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species), in response to its vulnerability to fishing and international trade.  The convention is one of the few with any teeth for fisheries” says Dr. Yvonne Sadovy, of the University of Hong Kong”.

The scientists say there is now sufficient evidence to conclude that reforming markets – which have opened up as a result of global trade liberalization – is an important strategy for controlling roving bandits.

They argue that regional surveillance is essential to reveal the full extent of market demand for ocean produce.

“As well as the trial fisheries and live fish management plans that have been initiated in some places, there are some encouraging signs that licensing, monitoring and enforcing can be effective at a local scale”, says Prof. Boris Worm from the Dalhousie University.

“Multilevel action, from the local to the international, is needed to establish institutions that are able to learn from experiences with roving bandits, develop decision-making skill in an environment of uncertainty and complexity, and respond quickly to shifts in demand from global markets,” says Professor Fikret Berkes of the University of Manitoba, Canada.

However, the scientists say, the strongest argument for balancing international trade and local needs is the social inequity that arises from the export of the dwindling coral reef resources of developing tropical nations.

“Once those resources are destroyed and forgotten, it is the local people who bear the costs of reduced options for future development,” they warn.

More information:

Terry Hughes
Address: ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia.
Phone: +61 (0)7 4781 4000, 0429439782
Email:   terry.hughes@jcu.edu.au

David Bellwood
Address: ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland 4811, Australia.
Phone:    +61 7 4781 4447
Email:   david.bellwood@jcu.edu.au

Carl Folke
Address: Centre for Transdisciplinary Environmental Research and Department of Systems Ecology, Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden.
Phone:   +46 08 673 9533
Email: calle@ecology.su.se

Fikret Berkes
Address: Natural Resources Institute, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, Manitoba R3T 2N2, Canada.
Phone:  +12 04 474 6731
Email:   berkes@cc.umanitoba.ca

Beatrice Crona
Address: Centre for Transdisciplinary Environmental Research and Department of Systems Ecology, Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden.
Phone: +46 8 161 748
Email: Beatrice@ecology.su.se

Lance Gunderson
Address: Dept. of Environmental Studies, Emory University, Atlanta GA 30322, USA.
Phone:    +14 04 727 2429
Email:    lgunder@emory.edu

Heather Leslie
Address: Dept. of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology & The Princeton Environmental Institute, Princeton University, Princeton NJ 08544, USA.
Phone:    +1 609 258 7915
Email:   hleslie@princeton.edu
Heather is available to speak with the press on Thursday 16th and Friday 17th March.

Andrea Manica
Dept of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK.
Phone:  +44 1223 336627
Email: am315@cam.ac.uk

Jon Norberg
Address: Department of Systems Ecology, Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden.
Phone:  +46 8 164 916
Emailjon.norberg@ecology.su.se

Magnus Nyström
Address: Centre for Transdisciplinary Environmental Research and Department of Systems Ecology, Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden.
Phone: +46 (0)8 16 44 86
Email:  magnusn@ecology.su.se

Per Olsson
Address: Centre for Transdisciplinary Environmental Research and Department of Systems Ecology, Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden.
Phone: +46 8 162 518
Email: per@ctm.su.se

Henrik Österblom
Address: Department of Systems Ecology, Stockholm University, 106 91 Stockholm, Sweden.
Phone: +46 8 405 1928
Email: henriko@ecology.su.se; henrik.osterblom@sustainable.ministry.se

Yvonne Sadovy, Department of Ecology & Biodiversity, University of Hong Kong, China:
Email yjsadovy@hku.hk;
tel: 852-2817-4834

Helen Scales
Dept of Zoology, University of Cambridge, Downing Street, Cambridge CB2 3EJ, UK.
Email: helenscales@cantab.net

Marten Scheffer
Address: Aquatic Ecology and Water Quality Management Group, Department of Environmental Sciences, Wageningen University, 6700 DD Wageningen, The Netherlands.
Phone: +31 317 484 039
Email: marten.scheffer@wur.nl

Robert Steneck
Address: School of Marine Sciences, University of Maine, Orono, Maine 04469, USA.
Phone:  +1 207 563 3146 ext: 233 (Voice)
Email:     steneck@maine.edu

Jim Wilson
Address: School of Marine Sciences, University of Maine, Orono, Maine 04469, USA.
Phone: +1 207 581 4368
Email:  jwilson@maine.edu

Boris Worm
Address: Biology Department, Dalhousie University, Halifax, Nova Scotia B3H 4J1, Canada.
Phone: +1 902 494 2478
Email: bworm@dal.ca

Jim O’Brien, James Cook University Media Office, 07 4781 4822

Hughes, TP, Berkes, F, Steneck, RS, Wilson, JA, Bellwood, DR, Crona, B, Folke, C, Gunderson, LH, Leslie, HM, Norberg, J, Nystrom, M, Olsson, P, Osterblom, H, Scheffer, M and Worm, B (2006). “Keeping Bandits at Bay? – Response.” Science 313(5787): 612c-614.
Link to Full Text or pdf

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ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
James Cook University Townsville
Queensland 4811 Australia

Phone: 61 7 4781 4000
Email: info@coralcoe.org.au