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EU Overfishing Starving West Africa & Increasing Bushmeat Trade

Finding No Fish, Ghanaians Turn to Bushmeat, Report Says
Nov 11, 2004

By Maggie Fox, Health and Science Correspondent

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Overfishing by subsidized European fleets off the
coast of West Africa is hurting local fisheries and forcing people to
slaughter wildlife to get enough to eat, researchers said on Thursday.

They said the so-called bushmeat trade in Ghana is strongly driven by a lack
of fish, and added the country risked even worse poverty and social unrest
-- as well as the loss of an irreplaceable natural resource -- unless
something changes.

Bushmeat includes game such as antelope but also species such as monkeys
and jackals.

The finding, published in the journal Science, confirms accusations from
local conservation groups that international fishing is hurting local
people.

"This study provides the strongest link yet between a local fish supply
with immediate, dramatic effects on bushmeat hunting and terrestrial
wildlife," said Justin Brashares, an assistant professor of ecosystem
sciences at the University of California Berkeley who led the study.

"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," Brashares added in a statement.

The result can be devastating, socially and economically, the researchers
said. "Recent collapses of mammal populations in some areas of West Africa
have been linked to geographic patterns of poverty and malnourishment," they
wrote.

European Union (news - web sites) subsidies of European fleets may be in
part to blame. "If it weren't for this financial support, these studies
suggest, it wouldn't be worthwhile for EU fleets to head to West Africa," he
said.

More than half of Ghana's 20 million people live near the coast and they
rely heavily on fishing.

Brashares and colleagues said they studied census data recorded by park
rangers from 1970 to 1998 for 41 species of animals such as buffalo,
antelope, jackals, lions, elephants, monkeys and baboons.

Then they analyzed data from the United Nations (news - web sites) Food and
Agriculture Organization (news - web sites) on fish in the region.

DECREASE IN MAMMALS AND EXTINCTIONS

They found a 76 percent decrease in numbers of mammals, with many local
extinctions.

The fewer fish there were year to year, the harder the impact on land
animals, they found. Checks on local market prices confirmed the suspicions.

"The fact that fish prices were high when fish availability was low
indicates that the link with high bushmeat sales was driven by low fish
supply," said Andrew Balmford, a conservation biologist at Britain's
University of Cambridge who worked on the report.

"Our results emphasize the urgent need to develop cheap protein
alternatives to bushmeat and to improve fisheries management by foreign and
domestic fleets to avert extinctions of tropical wildlife," the researchers
concluded.

Bushmeat hunting has also been linked to the emergence of dangerous new
viruses that may have jumped from animals to people -- Ebola (news - web
sites) and the AIDS (news - web sites) virus.

The researchers noted that the European Union heavily fishes off the
African coast, with financial subsidies for fleets rising to more than $350
million in 2001 from $6 million in 1981.

Some conservation experts say that the fish licensing agreements between
several African nations and the European Union and other industrialized
nations heavily favor the rich nations.

"These agreements are extremely unfair," said Daniel Pauly, professor and
director of the Fisheries Center at Canada's University of British Columbia,
who did not work on the study.

"If you have a very powerful economy negotiating with weak one, then it's
very difficult for weak ones to say no," Pauly added.

Copyright © 2004 Reuters Limited.