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People and ecosystems

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Ecosystem dynamics: past, present and future

Examining the multi-scale dynamics of reefs, from population dynamics to macroevolution

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Coral Bleaching

Coral Bleaching

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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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.

Images available here.

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

Contacts:

Dr Brock Bergseth
(currently in USA)
+1 (612) 381 7866 (CDT/ UTC -5)
Brock.bergseth@my.jcu.edu.au

Dr Georgina Gurney (Dr Gurney and Dr Barnes work at JCU’s Townsville campus).
0437 462 151
Georgina.gurney@gmail.com

Dr Michele Barnes
0408 677 570
Michele.barnes@jcu.edu.au

For more information:

Ms Catherine Naum
Communications Manager
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
P: +61 (0) 0428 785 895, +61 (0)7 4781 6067 (AEST/ UTC – 10)
E: catherine.naum1@jcu.edu.au

New research has revealed the tiny minority of fishers who poach on the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) think the illegal practice is justified, because they believe “everyone else is doing it.”

Researchers at the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University asked nearly 700 recreational fishers at boat ramps in Townsville about their perceptions of poaching (i.e. fishing in no-take zones).

PhD candidate Brock Bergseth led the study, and said the results were overwhelmingly encouraging.

“97 per cent of fishers thought poaching was personally unacceptable, and most supported enforcement of the rules. But a small number did not.”

Mr Bergseth said the 21 self-admitted poachers thought poaching occurred much more often, than did non-poachers.

“People involved in illicit activities such as illegal drug use and drink driving are more prone to overestimate the prevalence of their behaviour in society. This ‘false consensus effect’ often allows offenders to justify their actions – they think it’s ok because ‘everyone else is doing it.’ Our data suggest that this effect may also be occurring among poachers in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP).”

He said it was a dangerous trend, because fishers who know poachers can also be ‘contaminated’ if they begin to think the bad behavior is widespread.

“People who know a poacher have significantly higher estimates of the level of poaching compared to fishers that don’t know poachers. This implies that these fishers believe that poaching is more common than fishers who do not associate with poachers.”

Mr Bergseth said 13 per cent of fishers reported knowing someone who had poached within the past 12 months.

“In all, this study showed how numerous misperceptions are probably supporting the continuation of poaching on the GBR. If left unchecked, these misperceptions could lead to a cascading effect that encourages further poaching.”

Mr Bergseth said the research pointed to a way of addressing the problem.

“There are three specific messages that could be communicated to poachers. First, that nearly every recreational fisher thinks that poaching is socially and morally unacceptable. Secondly, it is really important for everyone to know that almost all recreational fishers follow the rules – poachers are just a small minority that people don’t respect. And lastly, the likelihood of getting detected while poaching is high, as are the consequences – the fine for poaching in a no-take zone is $2100.”

Citation: Bergseth BJ, Roscher M (2018). Discerning the culture of compliance through recreational fisher’s perceptions of poaching. Marine Policy 89:132-141

Link to paper here.

Link to images here.

Contact:

Brock Bergseth
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at JCU
M: +61 (0) 415 655 551 (AEST/UTC +10)
E: brock.bergseth@my.jcu.edu.au

Catherine Naum
Communications Manager
ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies
M: +61 (0) 428 785 895 (AEST/UTC +10)
E: catherine.naum1@jcu.edu.au

 

Data gathered from the research

The average fisher in the GBRMP:

Is male and spends about 34 days a year fishing.

Makes $90–135,000 AUD, and has a tertiary education.

Most (73%) fishers said fishing was the most important activity that they undertook in the GBRMP, and most (78%) had previously been inspected by marine parks personnel.

57% believed that fishers they did not know had poached in the past 12 months.

A moderate level (16–21%) of fishers reported not caring about whether others would approve of them poaching.

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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