The Influence of Fisher Knowledge on the Susceptibility of Reef Fish Aggregations to FishingReport as inadecuate

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Reef fishes that exhibit predictable aggregating behaviour are often considered vulnerable to overexploitation. However, fisher knowledge of this behaviour is often heterogeneous and, coupled with socioeconomic factors that constrain demand for or access to aggregated fish, will influence susceptibility to fishing. At two case study locations in Papua New Guinea, Ahus and Karkar islands, we conducted interview-based surveys to examine how local context influenced heterogeneity in knowledge of fish aggregations. We then explored the role of fisher knowledge in conferring susceptibility to fishing relative to socioeconomic drivers of fishing effort. Local heterogeneity in knowledge of aggregating behaviour differed between our case studies. At Ahus, variable access rights among fishers and genders to the main habitats were sources of heterogeneity in knowledge. By contrast, knowledge was more homogenous at Karkar and the sole source of variation was gear type. Differences between locations in the susceptibility of aggregations to fishing depended primarily on socioeconomic drivers of fishing effort rather than catchability. While Ahus fishers were knowledgeable of fish aggregations and used more selective gears, Karkar fishers were less constrained by tenure in their access to aggregation habitat. However, fishing effort was greater at Ahus and likely related to high dependency on fishing, greater access to provincial capital markets than Karkar and a weakening of customary management. Moreover, highly efficient fishing techniques have emerged at Ahus to exploit the non-reproductive aggregating behaviour of target species. Understanding how knowledge is structured within fishing communities and its relation to socioeconomic drivers of fishing effort is important if customary practices for conservation, such as tambu areas, are to be supported. The findings of this study call for a holistic approach to assessing the risks posed to reef fish aggregations by fishing, grounded in the principals of fisheries science and emerging social-ecological thinking.

Author: Jan Robinson , Joshua E. Cinner, Nicholas A. J. Graham



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