Friday, July 13, 2007

African Bush-Meat Trade Linked to EU Overfishing

Pasteur Institute, Yaoundé Cameroon, October 1997
"Recent studies in central Africa have shown that up to 20 percent of bush meat from primates contained potentially dangerous microorganisms, including viruses closely related to HIV."
—Conservationist and photographer Karl Ammann

African Bush-Meat Trade Linked to EU Overfishing
James Owen in London
for National Geographic News
November 11, 2004

The European Union's taste for West African seafood may be causing more Africans to kill wild animals for food—including lions, leopards, and hippopotamuses—a new study suggests.

Researchers say dwindling fish stocks due to trawling by foreign fishing fleets is a key cause of the increase in the "bush meat" trade in Ghana.

The study, published tomorrow in the journal Science, claims to be the first to provide strong evidence of a link between local fish supply and bush-meat hunting. (See photographs of bush-meat hunting in Africa. Warning: photos include depictions of butchered animals.)

Lead author Justin Brashares, assistant professor of ecosystems science at the University of California, Berkeley, says it's likely that other West African countries are similarly affected.

"If people aren't able to get their protein from fish, they'll turn elsewhere for food and economic survival," he said. "Unfortunately the impacts on wild game resources are not sustainable."

Using data from six Ghanaian nature reserves between 1970 and 1998, the research team found a massive 76 percent fall in abundance for 41 species of larger mammals.

Over a similar period the marine fish catch in Ghana ranged from 230,000 to 480,000 tons annually, varying by as much as 24 percent in consecutive years. When regional fish supplies dropped, reports of bush-meat hunters on the reserves were seen to rise. Likewise, bush meat for sale at 12 local markets was found to increase when fish supplies fell.

Brashares says wild animals that suffered most were large carnivores such as lions, leopards, and hyenas; primates including colobus and mona monkeys; and several herbivores (hippos, giant hogs, and bongo antelopes).

Fishing Funded by European Union

The researchers note that subsidized foreign fleets have taken much of the blame for Ghana's depleted fish stocks, particularly those from European Union (EU) countries. The study shows that financial aid for EU fishing vessels in foreign waters rose from around 6 million U.S. dollars in 1981 to more than 350 million dollars in 2001.

Brashares says studies have shown these subsidies artificially increase profitability for EU companies operating in African waters. He added, "If it weren't for this financial support, these studies suggest, it wouldn't be worthwhile for EU fleets to head to West Africa." In 1996, for instance, the equivalent of 229 million U.S. dollars was paid to African governments by the EU for access agreements to African waters, according to the Worldwatch Institute in Washington D.C.

"These agreements are extremely unfair," said Daniel Pauly, director of the Fisheries Centre at the University of British Columbia, Canada. "If you have a very powerful economy negotiating with a weak one, then it's very difficult for the weak ones to say no."

Pauly, who isn't connected with the new study, adds that foreign vessels are often granted access to fishing grounds with no limits on catch.

"It's as if someone gave you three shopping carts for a day at a supermarket and told you that you wouldn't need to go through the cashier," he said.

Tuna are among the main fish species targeted by foreign vessels, Brashares said, with Ghana just one of many West African countries now subject to heavy fishing pressure.

For instance, the number of authorized French and Spanish tuna boats operating off the country of Guinea-Bissau jumped 300 percent from 1994 to 1998. That's an estimated catch increase of 33,000 tons per year, according to fisheries scientists at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Bush-Meat Consumption

Likewise, Brashares says, evidence from Cameroon, Congo, Gabon, and Liberia suggests "strong negative correlations between fish supply and bush-meat consumption." He added, "This is not only a Ghana issue, or a West Africa issue but an issue for much of Africa and perhaps the developing world."

Ghana's markets traditionally sell everything from shark and snapper to sardinella and anchovy. Brashares says these smaller, open-ocean species are particularly important sources of protein for poorer communities, as they can be dried and transported to remote inland regions.

The researchers say reforming EU policy won't completely resolve the problem of depleted stocks, partly because other nations also fish off West Africa. But they say it's a solution that can be enacted quickly.

Study co-author Andrew Balmford, senior lecturer in conservation biology at Cambridge University in England, added, "Given the EU's expressed concerns about the bush-meat trade, phasing out subsidies to their own fleets offers at least a short-term route to limit the trade, while simultaneously enhancing local fishers' livelihoods."

In the longer term the study highlights the need to provide alternative sources of protein such as cattle.

Brashares added, "Livestock production is increasing rapidly but it just isn't anywhere near the point where it can replace fish and bush meat. The limited availability and high costs associated with livestock production make domestic meat too expensive for most Ghanaians."

James Owen is a freelance science and nature journalist based in London.

Northwestern Gabon, March 1998
"A male mandrill is displayed for sale along a major road. Hanging carcasses from a stick by the roadside is a traditional way to advertise fresh bush meat for sale."
—Conservationist and photographer Karl Ammann

"Bush Meat" Crisis Needs Urgent Action, Group Warns
by Aliette Frank
for National Geographic News
May 22, 2001

Conservationists say illegal commercial hunting of African wildlife for sale as "bush meat" has reached alarming levels and immediate action is needed to address the problem before it's too late to save some seriously threatened species.

Every year as much as 1 million metric tons of wildlife (the equivalent of 4 million cattle) is killed for food in Central Africa alone, according to the Bush meat Crisis Task Force, a consortium of more than two dozen groups working to change the situation.

Many of Africa's poor regularly hunt animals such as elephants, gorillas, chimpanzees, and crocodiles to help meet their economic and nutritional needs. The task force says the problem has become magnified because of growing population and poverty in Africa. "The illegal, commercial bush meat trade is the most significant current threat to wildlife populations in Africa," said Michael Hutchins, director of conservation science for the American Zoo and Aquarium Association and chair of the task force's Steering Committee.

Hunting has put a considerable number of animals at serious risk of extinction. One example of an animal that has already disappeared from West Africa is Miss Waldron's colobus monkey.

The increasing exploitation of wildlife is occurring at rates that experts say is unsustainable, threatening not only the existence of the species themselves but also the health of the people who depend on wildlife as part of their daily diet. According to Hutchins, bush meat currently meets about 60 percent of the protein needs of rural Africans. "This unmanaged and unsustainable hunting could lead to a human tragedy of immense proportions," he said.

Broad-based Concern

Last week, the Maryland-based task force sponsored a major meeting in Washington, D.C., to catalyze concern about the bush meat crisis and develop strategies to deal with the problem. Nearly two dozen countries were represented by a broad range of concerned people who included policy and economic analysts, veterinarians, teachers, zoo and aquarium managers, and cultural anthropologists.

Heather Eaves, director of the task force, said the wide range of participation reflects the complexity of the problem, which has socioeconomic, nutritional, educational, and cultural dimensions. "Addressing the bush meat issue and finding effective solutions will have to accommodate broad, cross-sectoral concerns," she said.

One target of conservation initiatives is logging communities in the Congo Basin and other areas, where hunting and per capita consumption of bush meat is much higher than in many other rural areas.

With steady income, loggers and their families can better afford the cost of meat, as well as the purchase of guns and motorized transportation that aids commercial trade in game. Moreover, the building of logging roads into the forest improves hunters' access to wildlife and makes it easier to reach distant markets.

Among the actions seen as required to curb the rampant illegal harvesting of wildlife is better management and monitoring of protected areas, providing people with alternative sources of protein and income, and long-term financing of conservation measures that promote sustainable use of wildlife.

A recurrent message that surfaced in discussions about these and other topics at the meeting in Washington was the pressing need to educate people about the nature of the crisis and what could be done to improve the situation.

"Lack of public awareness is a driving force behind the bush meat crisis," actress Stephanie Powers, president of the William Holden Wildlife Foundation, said at a news conference organized in conjunction with the meeting. "Many people have never even heard the word 'bush meat.'"

According to a preliminary study conducted by Zoo Atlanta, nearly 90 percent of the U.S. public has no knowledge of the bush meat problem.

Eaves said most people have little understanding of the serious implications of not curbing the present illegal commercial hunting of wildlife for meat. "The need for the development of more formalized education and information regarding the bush meat crisis is urgent," she said.

Multi-level Education

"Educating people about the bush meat problem will require action at all levels—local, regional, national, and international," said Anthony Rose, executive director of the California-based Gorilla Foundation.

The conference participants focused on ways of developing greater awareness of the bush meat crisis through community-based education, curriculum development for Africa's regional wildlife colleges, and U.S.-based educational efforts. "We want to help provide everyone from local people to wildlife professionals with the skills and knowledge to address the bush meat issue," said Eaves.

The task force consortium believes the development and dissemination of community-oriented educational materials about bush meat could provide employment opportunities for Africans by training them as community education officers associated with sanctuaries, zoos, and other institutions.

"One of the most underutilized resources in Africa for wildlife conservation efforts is the formal education sector," said Eaves. Africa has three wildlife colleges, in Cameroon, Tanzania, and South Africa. Establishing formal degree programs and including education about bush meat in the required curriculum would ensure the training of much needed professionals, she explained.

At the same time, educational materials about the problem are also needed in the United States. "It is critical that Americans be involved in solving the bush meat crisis," said Christina Ellis, director of Africa Programs for the Jane Goodall Institute. "We must be able to understand the issue in the appropriate cultural and environmental contexts if we are to assist communities with infrastructure and development."

The task force plans to expand and coordinate efforts by schools, zoos, aquariums, and other institutions to raise awareness of the bush meat problem through public displays, posters, interactive computer sites, and teaching modules for the classroom.

"Awareness of the bush meat crisis must permeate the globe," said actress Powers. "It must become part of the everyday global consciousness."


eelttam said...

The connection between overfishing and the increased amounts of hunting activity is very surprising. I believe this video can give a lot of information about the subject. I learned a lot from it!

Anonymous said...

All sorts of diseases are been traced back to some African primates, there are parts in where these animals and humans live very closely, fomenting the spreading of the diseases.

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Anonymous said...

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