Poaching – why does it still happen?

Nature Seychelles has worked with researcher Louisa Wood of the University of British Columbia, Canada and other organisations to find out what motivates illegal fishing in Marine Protected Areas, (MPAs) and to try to identify ways to reduce poaching.

Cousin Island © D. Richardson

Hawksbill turtle swimming in Cousin's water © N. Grapham

Peacock grouper in Cousin's water © N. Graham

School of Silver Moony fish in Cousin's water © N. Graham

Marine resources in Seychelles are under pressure. Everyone wants a piece of them: fishers, locals, tourists, snorkellers, divers, game fishers, and so forth. While it is vast, the ocean is also fragile, and very sensitive, and the pressure is growing incrementaly.

MPAs exist to give the marine environment some respite from this pressure. They provide a refuge where many species, habitats and ecological processes can recover. There are currently eight MPAs in the Seychelles’ inner islands. Biological and socio-economic research has shown that all, bar Cousin Island, are regularly fished.

In well protected MPAs such as Cousin Island, fish have been shown to grow larger and occur in higher numbers. Bigger fish produce more offspring, which means that protecting fish inside MPAs can help to maintain healthy fish population’s outsides their boundaries. Sometimes the fish from inside MPAs move into unprotected areas, becoming available to be fished and thereby helping to maintain a productive and valuable fishery.

MPAs also help to protect the entire marine ecosystem from the long-term impacts of human pressure, and perhaps also climate change. These benefits apply not only to fish, but all species within the MPAs. The ability of MPAs to provide these benefits is thought to be heavily dependent upon the absence of human activities inside them, not only commercial fishing, but also coastal development, land reclamation and recreational fishing.

In looking more in depth at the problem of poaching, two groups of fishers have been identified in Seychelles-those who regularly poach, and those who occasionally (if ever) poach.

The research has shown that in general the decision to poach seems to be focused on three main issues:

1.    Locations: fishers who regularly poach live closer to MPAs than those who occasionally poach.
2.    Economics: 94% of all fishers feel that it is harder for them to catch enough fish now than when they began fishing. 75% of fishers said they would poach if the price of fuel increases. 10% of poachers, compared to 23% of non –poachers, looked for other work during the south –east monsoon.
3.    Socio-political environment: Many fishers feel that the regulations in MPAs are not enforced fairly, which reduces their willingness to comply with them, e.g. lack of control of some illegal recreational fishing, and inconsistent enforcement. They say that the fact that damaging activities such as dredging, hotel development inside an MPA, as well as large reclamations near the MPA have been allowed has undermined the authorities’ case for fishing restrictions.

To many, poaching is regarded only as a law enforcement issue. However, as is the case in most societies those who regularly violate conservation and natural resource management laws are not always your typical criminal but sometimes just people who feel marginalized or unfairly treated, are ignorant about conservation issues, are simply trying to make a “fast buck”, or are taking resources because they believe it belongs to them. The latter problem is called the Tragedy of the Commons and is prevalent in all societies where orthodox legal and administrative systems have not risen to the challenge of managing access rights and so-called common property. Here, the Seychelles Fishing Authority is now looking at rights-based management systems that could go a long way to reducing poaching.

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