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 Mongabay.com.
A study published in open-access journal Tropical Conservation Science conducted surveys in fishing camps and villages in south-west Cameroon.
The authors – 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.
“Eighty-five percent 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.”
The researchers estimate that 205 hectares of mangrove forests are cleared annually for fuel wood used to smoke fish between their five study sites.
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.
As 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 mangroves trees that serve as breeding grounds for fisheries are contradictorily being sacrificed as fuel for fish smoking.”
To remedy the situation, Messers 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.