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New study links low fish supply to increased bushmeat hunting

Berkeley -- The declining fish supply in the West African nation of Ghana, which once had a thriving fishing industry, has led to increased illegal hunting of wild game, or bushmeat, according to new research to be published Friday, Nov. 12, in the journal Science.

Researchers say that dwindling marine resources for Ghanaians have led to the extinction of almost half the species studied in some reserves. It is the first study to provide empirical evidence of an association long suspected by many conservation groups.

"This study provides the strongest link yet between a local fish supply with immediate, dramatic effects on bushmeat hunting and terrestrial wildlife," said lead author Justin Brashares, assistant professor of ecosystem sciences at the University of California, Berkeley's College of Natural Resources. "If people aren't able to get their protein from fish, they'll turn elsewhere for food and economic survival. Unfortunately, the impacts on wild game resources are not sustainable, and species are literally disappearing from the reserves."

Conservation groups, fisheries researchers and African leaders have blamed subsidized foreign fleets for helping to accelerate the downturn in the fish supply. The study notes that the European Union (EU) maintains the largest foreign presence off the coast of West Africa, with EU fish catches increasing 20-fold from 1950 to 2001, and financial subsidies jumping from $6 million in 1981 to more than $350 million in 2001.

"Other studies have shown that EU subsidies artificially increase the profitability for EU ships to fish in African waters," said Brashares, who began this work as a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge. "If it weren't for this financial support, these studies suggest, it wouldn't be worthwhile for EU fleets to head to West Africa."

Brashares collaborated with researchers in Africa and from the University of British Columbia in Can
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Contact: Sarah Yang
scyang@berkeley.edu
510-643-7741
University of California - Berkeley
11-Nov-2004


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