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Reef Fisheries

Challenges for Management

In many locations fishing and environmental pressures on coral reefs need to be relieved in order to give resources and the habitats on which they depend the opportunity to recover, and to improve the economic benefits these resources can provide in the future. Managers of coral reef fisheries in the Indo-Pacific face a huge variety of challenges in achieving these objectives, including:
  • growing coastal populations, in which increasing numbers of people are trying to make a living by exploiting coral reef fisheries. (FAO estimates that the number of coastal fishers and fish farmers (who frequently also rely on natural resources to provide seed-stock) rose from 13 million in 1980 to 25 million in 1990);
  • basic beliefs held in many places that marine resources are inexhaustible, and will 'look after themselves';
  • increasing use of technologically sophisticated and destructive fishing methods;
  • growing international demand for reef-associated seafood products, especially from mainland China;
  • difficulties in enforcing centralised fishery management rules and regulations in extensive, often isolated rural areas;
  • corruption among politicians or enforcement officials,
  • in many cases, lack of a sound legislative basis that enables co-management or community-based management arrangements;
  • achieving a balance between alternative uses of coral reef resources. For instance, recreational or tourism-based diving may provide better economic returns than fishing, but the benefits may not flow to the same people.
Underlying all these challenges is the question of information. Stakeholder consultations in a number of Indo-Pacific countries have underlined the importance that stakeholders place on being able to obtain information and advice relevant to their concerns. Many of them have limited access to information sources, and are not sure where to look. Fishery managers in particular may find it difficult to identify sources of experience and knowledge in regard to the specific fishery management issues they face, despite the fact that these issues may be replicated in other areas, and that different solutions may have been tried.

Despite these challenges, the rewards from improved reef management may be significant. Accounts by Pacific travellers from the late 1800s and even the early part of the present century record many instances of highly abundant coral reef-associated resources. Records exist of giant clams, tropical lobsters and pearl oysters occurring in the Cook Islands and Kiribati in colonies so dense that people could not walk without standing on them. Similarly, there are records from Papua New Guinea of turtles nesting in such densities that they completely covered the beach, and newly arriving turtles could not find nesting space. These densities of animals have not been seen by anyone of the current generation. Our baseline now is to restore stocks to levels that we think of as being abundant, but in fact are a mere shadow of former populations. Coral reefs may have the potential to provide us with benefits far in excess of those we have become used to, if we can manage them effectively.

Source: Gary Preston (written for ReefBase)
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