What would you do if you saw someone breaking the law? Would you report the offender to the police? Confront them? Or would you do nothing?
We recently asked more than 2,000 fishers in seven countries what they would do if they saw a poacher in a protected marine area.
Poaching – the illegal harvest of animals – plagues many of the world’s marine protected areas. Illegal fishing undermines marine parks and can threaten chronically over-fished species.
A key problem is the lack of enforcement resources. An increasing number of governments and management agencies are encouraging fishers to help, by understanding marine protection rules and reporting poachers.
Yet little is known about how fishers respond when they witness poaching.
If you see something, say…nothing
We surveyed more than 2,000 fishers near 55 marine protected areas in Kenya, Tanzania, Madagascar, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Costa Rica, and Australia, asking if they had recently seen someone poaching – and if so, what they did.
We found nearly half had witnessed poaching in the last 12 months, and the most common response was to do nothing.
This was particularly prevalent on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, where nearly 80 per cent of fishers did nothing after observing poaching. In six of the seven countries we surveyed, fishers said their inaction was because they wanted to avoid conflict – a sensible strategy in places such as Costa Rica, where illegal drugs are commonly trafficked on boats from South America to the USA.
However, avoiding conflict was rarely the rationale around the Great Barrier Reef. Fishers in the Reef cited three main reasons for inaction:
- uncertainty as to whether it was illegal fishing
- a belief it was not their concern or responsibility
- perceived obstacles to reporting (such as not knowing where or how to report).
Given the growing concern over the health and future of the Reef, it’s important to enlist fishers in the fight against poachers. Encouragingly, many of the reasons for inaction can be fixed with better education and community outreach efforts.