"Everyone is familiar in a colloquial way with the effects on wildlife in Africa, but to demonstrate the links between human demands for protein and the decline of wildlife resources in a statistical way has not been done before because the data hasn't been available. We've been able to do this study because of the long history of ranger surveys in Ghana."
The researchers suspect the decline in the availability of fish at local Ghanaian markets is linked to heavy overfishing in the Gulf of Guinea. UBC fisheries professor Daniel Pauly and others have identified the Gulf as one of the most overfished areas of the world, and now at risk of collapse.
Declines in fish stocks in waters off West Africa have coincided with more than ten-fold increases in regional fish harvests by foreign and domestic fleets since 1950. The European Union has consistently had the largest foreign presence off West Africa, with EU fish harvests there increasing by a factor of 20 from 1950 to 2001.
Arcese says the results support arguments that he, Sinclair and other biologists and agricultural economists have made for over a decade that urgent measures are needed to develop local sources of cheap protein alternatives to offset demand for wildlife harvest.
But, he adds, until the larger issue of international fish export agreements, increased populations and increased demand for food is addressed, local-level efforts to prevent the extinction of wildlife species will be very difficult.
"Many conservationists in Africa have been focusing on small-scale interaction of people near parks and say the solution lies in local development projects for local people," Arcese says. "It's an ethical and good approach, but if the larger problem of wildlife decline is mainly a result of large-scale economic policies a
Contact: Michelle Cook
University of British Columbia