2 December 2020

Unintended Consequences?

NREM studies the human and environmental cost of closing fisheries across Palau

Unintended Consequences?

With 340 islands spread over the Pacific, it’s no wonder the residents of Palau heavily depend on the ocean for food.

So when this isolated archipelago closed 80% of its ocean to fishing in order to conserve biodiversity and ensure future food security, the concern quickly became, “What are the unintended consequences on local ecosystems and people?”

Enter an ongoing, multinational investigation of these potential socio-economic impacts, led by Kirsten Oleson of the Dept. of Natural Resources and Environmental Management. The authors’ latest study concludes the new mandate will increase both offshore fish prices and tourist consumption of reef fish – which could endanger local reef ecosystems.

However, if tourists are offered a sustainable offshore fish choice, their demand for fish could be kept at current levels, and environmental impacts from increased reef fish consumption could be avoided.

“The Palau National Marine Sanctuary sets an international benchmark for protecting our oceans,” says Kirsten. “Our findings support the government by turning potential downsides of fishery closures into new opportunities for the local economy.”

The lesson learned is applicable to Hawaiʻi, she adds, in that policies to protect the ocean, coastline, forests etc. should consider the impact on food systems in order to avoid unintended environmental consequences.

The study, Conservation policies informed by food system feedbacks can avoid unintended consequences, appears in Nature Food.

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