Ground truths about poaching in Marine Protected Areas

Brock Bergseth integrates marine biology, ecology, and human behavior to study coral reef ecosystems at the Australian Research Council’s Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University. He shares this Frontiers Focus on methods for assessing poaching by recreational fishers from the March 2017 issue of ESA Frontiers.

 

Proof of poaching. Discarded fishing line can be counted inside marine reserves to provide unequivocal evidence of poaching efforts. Standardized counts of discarded line provide a relative measure of fishing effort inside compared to outside marine reserves. Photo credit: David Williamson.

Proof of poaching. Discarded fishing line can be counted inside marine reserves to provide unequivocal evidence of poaching efforts. Standardized counts of discarded line provide a relative measure of fishing effort inside compared to outside marine reserves. Photo credit: David Williamson.

In recent decades, thousands of marine reserves have been established to protect our oceans. Yet, widespread poaching currently makes the vast majority of these reserves ineffective.

Ensuring the protection of our oceans means we must stem the tide of poaching. However, doing so requires understanding how much poaching is going on and the reasons why people do it. This information is particularly difficult to get because poaching is illegal, clandestine, and often socially unacceptable, so people don’t like to talk about it.

My colleagues and I studied poaching by recreational fishers in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park (GBRMP) using rigorous social survey techniques designed to study illegal behavior (such as poaching) and ground-truthing measurements (i.e. counting lost and discarded fishing gears). In the March 2017 issue of Frontiers of Ecology and the Environment, we reported that between 3 and 18 percent of recreational fishers admitted to poaching in the last year, which is higher than previously assumed. We also identified concentrations of poaching activities at certain times (holidays) and places (poaching hotspots) previously thought to be among the best protected in the GBRMP.

Fishers gave two main reasons for poaching: their belief that there would be higher catches in reserves and that the probability of detection was low. This suggests that extolling certain ecological benefits of reserves in places where enforcement is limited could actually encourage poaching. We suggest that increasing the perceived risk of detection (i.e. naming and shaming offenders, or publicizing new detection technologies such as drones or night vision) may help to stem the rising tide of poaching on the Great Barrier Reef.


March cover of Frontiers in Ecology and the EvironmentBrock J Bergseth, David H Williamson, Garry R Russ, Stephen G Sutton, Joshua E Cinner (2017) A social–ecological approach to assessing and managing poaching by recreational fishers. Front Ecol Environ 15(2): 67–73, doi:10.1002/fee.1457


⇒More from Frontiers Focus:

Author: Frontiers Focus

Share This Post On