Setting up marine protected areas (MPAs) is great, but the work does not end once they are established. Even after legislation has been passed that prohibits poaching, this illegal activity remains widespread in such areas.
According to a new study, nearly half of fishermen from seven countries (Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Costa Rica and Australia) had spotted poachers in MPAs in the past year but most did not do anything about it.
This response was given by nearly 80 percent of fishermen at the Great Barrier Reef (GBR) in Australia.
“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," said Dr Brock Bergseth from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University.
Reasons given for not taking action were varied. They thought it was not their concern or responsibility, they were unsure if it was illegal or there were obstacles to reporting the crime.
In the other countries surveyed, the most common reason given was a desire to avoid conflict. This highlighted the fact that confronting the poachers may be dangerous in some countries.
Co-author Dr Michele Barnes said that although apathy towards poaching was widespread, there were 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 researchers also found out that those who agreed with the MPA regulations, were included in the decision-making processes or who were affected by the poaching activity were more likely to report or confront poachers. Hence, Barnes added that empowering fishermen can encourage voluntary enforcement.
According to Bergseth, “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. 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."