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Mangrove destruction for fish trade may undermine fishermen in West Africa

Mangrove destruction for fish trade may undermine fishermen in West Africa

Mangrove destruction for fish trade may undermine fishermen in West Africa
September 15, 2008

The harvesting of mangrove forests in West Africa for the smoked fish trade threatens to undermine the primary source of income for the very fishermen who supply fish to the market, reports a study published Monday in the open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science.

Conducting surveys in fishing camps and villages in southwest Cameroon, Njisuh Zebedee Feka of Cameroon's Regional Centre for Development and Conservation and Mario G. Manzano of the Tecnologico de Monterrey, Mexico, found a poor understanding among local people of the importance of mangroves in maintaining fisheries.

"Communities are typically unaware of their own long-term need to maintain mangroves," the authors write. "85% of the interviewees reported that in the outcome of mangrove disappearance they would resort to farming. This is an issue because their lands are currently marginal for agriculture and also demonstrates the acute lack of knowledge on the functions of mangrove forests to their well-being. This is contradictory, because about 30% of wood harvesters ascertained that mangrove forests were degraded and/or depleted and as a consequence they were losing out on income and had to travel further distances to harvest wood."

Women harvesting mangrove wood. Photo courtesy of Feka and Manzano (2008).

Feka and Manzano estimate that, their five study sites, 205 hectares of mangrove forests are cleared annually for fuel wood used to smoke fish. Given that Cameroon has extensive mangrove forests and that fish smoking is a widespread practice, it would appear that wood-harvesting is a significant driver of mangrove degradation in the country. Because mangroves serve as an important breeding and spawning grounds for fish, ongoing degradation could have a detrimental impact on local livelihoods.

"The current uses of mangrove resources in the region indicate a clear conflict between fishing and forestry," they write. "The very mangrove trees that serve as breeding grounds for fisheries are contradictorily being sacrificed as fuel for fish smoking."

To remedy the situation, Feka and Manzano suggest a series of measures including improving policy to allow community management of resources, raising awareness of the importance of mangroves to fisheries, and developing sustainable use practices.

"While it may be common knowledge that coastal communities are dependent on the exploitation of mangrove resources for their well-being, illustrating the connectivity of resources and how these dynamics can be used for management purposes is very important in ecosystem sustainability," they write. "Given the current economic situation and the scarcity of alternative income-generating activities, mangrove wood harvesting and fish smoking are a necessity for local people to meet their needs in the face of scarce financial resources."

"This situation creates a conflicting trade-off between preserving the ecological integrity of the mangrove forests and responding to human needs. Resolving this situation necessitates creative and practical management solutions. But with current policy gaps, overexploitation of resources and improper understanding of the ecological and economic value of this system in Cameroon, it becomes critical to address the issues in terms both of poverty alleviation and biodiversity conservation. Proper sensitization, and the use of information like that highlighted in this study to improve policy and enforcement, are vital in effectively addressing the current state of this ecosystem in the region," they conclude.

Njisuh Zebedee Feka and Mario G. Manzano. The implications of wood exploitation for fish smoking on mangrove ecosystem conservation in the South West Province, Cameroon. Tropical Conservation Science Vol. 1(3):163-185, September 2008

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