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Coral Reef Studies

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

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How cities mine fish stocks

Apr 2009

The state of coral reef fish stocks often depends how close they are to markets.

Striking new research carried out in the Solomon Islands has drawn a direct line between the depletion of local fish stocks and their proximity to national or even local markets. Recognising the role which markets play in depleting fish stocks in the developing world offers scientists and managers a new weapon for evaluating and managing the fish stocks that remain.


The fishing boats on the shore at the national capital after transporting fish to sell

“Reef fishery stocks are under increasing threat from factors such as global warming, runoff and logging, and overfishing. With over 500 million people worldwide dependent on reef resources, it is crucial to understand what is causing declining stocks,” says Tom Brewer of the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (CoECRS) at James Cook University.

Most studies about the human impacts on coral reefs focus on the negative role of human population size, but local subsistence pressures, national urban markets, and international demand for certain species combine to deplete fish stocks in ways that are not well understood. This novel study went a step further, accounting for the affect of local, provincial, and national markets on fish stocks.

“We found that markets can be as important as environmental conditions and local fishing pressure in determining the condition of fish stocks – and for some kinds of fish they are even more important. The closer you get to a major town or city, the more overfished are the most sought-after reef species such as gropers, parrotfish, snappers and emperors.”

“The bigger the market, the larger the area fisheries resources are drawn from – big markets cast a wider net. The network of markets allows cities to project their footprint even to remote areas with larger markets obtaining fish through their links to smaller markets,” Mr Brewer says.

“Because of this, proximity to even very small local markets can have surprisingly strong impact to the local area, particularly when they are connected to larger markets.”

The research by Mr Brewer and colleagues Josh Cinner, Alison Green and John Pandolfi finds that more attention needs to be paid to markets and their ability to mine fish to ensure the continued availability of fish for food and income and the ecological integrity of reefs.

In places such as the Solomon Islands, where more than 80 per cent of households in a population of more than half a million are involved in fishing to some extent, overfishing can have critical economic and social impacts.

“The best scenario is when reefs can provide communities with food and income without endangering the capacity of the reefs to be productive in the long term. Our research shows how this can be compromised by inadequately regulated markets,” Mr Brewer explains.

With relatively recent improvements of fishing equipment, refrigeration and increasing market access, reef resources in the Solomons have become depleted. This is a picture being repeated worldwide, the team warns.

“While our study focused on one particular group of islands and their internal economy, there’s not much doubt that similar circumstances play out on the global stage, too. When global markets for reef fish are inadequately regulated, as is sometimes the case in the aquarium and live reef food fish trades, local fish stocks in remote areas can become overexploited despite low local populations and local demand,” say s Dr Alison Green of The Nature Conservancy.

The team’s paper “Thresholds and multiple scale interaction of environment, resource use, and market proximity on reef fishery resources in the Solomon Islands” by Tom D Brewer, Joshua E Cinner (CoECRS and JCU), Alison Green  (The Nature Conservancy) and John M Pandolfi (The University of Queensland) appears in the latest issue of the journal Biological Conservation.

More information:
Tom Brewer, CoECRS and JCU, +61 7 4781 6751 or +61 0433 976 561
Email: tom.brewer@jcu.edu.au
Jenny Lappin, CoECRS, +61 7 4781 4222
Jim O’Brien, James Cook University Media Office, +61 7 4781 4822 or +61 0418 892449
Jan King, UQ Communications Manager, +61 7 3365 1120


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Coral Reef Studies

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