Reef fishes are significant socially, nutritionally and economically, yet biologically they are vulnerable to both over‐exploitation and degradation of their habitat. Their importance in the tropics for living conditions, human health, food security and economic development is enormous, with millions of people and hundreds of thousands of communities directly dependent, and many more indirectly so. Reef fish fisheries are also critical safety valves in times of economic or social hardship or disturbance, and are more efficient, less wasteful and support far more livelihoods per tonne produced than industrial scale fisheries. Yet, relative to other fisheries globally, those associated with coral reefs are under‐managed, under‐funded, under‐monitored, and as a consequence, poorly understood or little regarded by national governments. Even among non‐governmental organizations, which are increasingly active in tropical marine issues, there is typically little focus on reef‐associated resources, the interest being more on biodiversity per se or protection of coral reef habitat. This essay explores the background and history to this situation, examines fishery trends over the last 30 years, and charts a possible way forward given the current realities of funding, capacity, development patterns and scientific understanding of coral reef ecosystems. The luxury live reef food‐fish trade is used throughout as a case study because it exemplifies many of the problems and challenges of attaining sustainable use of coral reef‐associated resources. The thesis developed is that sustaining reef fish fisheries and conserving biodiversity can be complementary, rather than contradictory, in terms of yield from reef systems. I identify changes in perspectives needed to move forward, suggest that we must be cautious of ‘fashionable’ solutions or apparent ‘quick fixes’, and argue that fundamental decisions must be made concerning the short and long‐term values of coral reef‐associated resources, particularly fish, for food and cash and regarding alternative sources of protein. Not to address the problems will inevitably lead to growing poverty, hardship and social unrest in many areas.
Fish and Fisheries – Wiley
Published: Sep 1, 2005
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