Fair trade ‘can help save reefs’



To prevent the collapse of worldwide fisheries and the death of coral reefs, fishing communities must be able to earn alternative incomes from other industries, a marine researcher warns.

Setting up marine protected areas (MPAs) to curb overfishing will not be enough to remove one of the biggest threats to ocean life, Dr Simon Foale from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies and James Cook University told the Coral Reefs: Coast to Coast symposium in Fremantle.

“Many communities in developing countries like Papua New Guinea and the Philippines need livelihoods other than fishing, such as farming or manufacturing,” Dr Foale says. “However, these sources are often unable to give them a decent income – and one reason for this is unfair international trade arrangements.

“Growers of crops such as bananas, coffee beans, vanilla and coconut are often paid very little for their products. So despite abundant capacity to produce agricultural products in these communities, the most lucrative livelihood is often fishing.”

Dr Foale says that some of the biggest drivers of poverty in these communities include unfair trade rules and the use of tax havens by transnational corporations to minimise or avoid paying tax on exports.

Timber trading is an example, he said.

“Timber is a major export and is one of the most important foreign income earners in developing nations such as Solomon islands and Papua New Guinea. However, transnational companies routinely use transfer pricing, under-reporting or lying about timber species to evade tax.

“These nations have been, and are still losing vast sums of money through unequal and corrupt financial structures like these. So besides being unable to access sustainable alternative incomes, the communities also have poor health services, low education standards and inadequate transport and communications.

“This causes a vicious cycle: as long as education and other services are under-resourced, the communities remain ignorant of the financial processes that are robbing them and their governments of alternative sources of revenue and economic development. This in turn forces local communities to rely heavily on unsustainable fishing practices.”

Dr Foale said that the heavy dependence on fishing can undermine Marine Protected Areas as impoverished communities are more likely to poach fish from closed areas,.

While researchers, organisations and local governments warn the communities about the drastic consequences of over fishing, protecting the marine environment requires more than merely raising awareness and closing fisheries.

“Simply telling them what to do and sealing off marine areas will not always work,” he said. “Low density countries such as PNG and Solomon Islands still enjoy enough food security that most people can afford to reduce fishing effort in the interest of resource protection. But the economic pressures on fishers in many tropical countries drive them to fish illegally, which defeats the point of having MPAs.

“This is why we propose that coral reefs, especially in the Coral Triangle, will have a better chance of survival if the livelihoods of the fishing communities are protected.

“We need a greater investment in researching and addressing the transnational drivers of poverty.

“Fair trade, to provide a decent income from alternative livelihoods, is a good place to start.”