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 reported in the current issue of the journal Science.
The researchers said the so-called bush meat trade in Ghana is strongly driven by a lack of fish, and added that the country risked even worse poverty and social unrest -- as well as the loss of an irreplaceable natural resource -- unless something changes.
Bush meat includes game such as antelope but also species such as monkeys and jackals.
“This study provides the strongest link yet between a local fish supply with immediate, dramatic effects on bush meat hunting and terrestrial wildlife,” said Justin Brashares, an assistant professor of ecosystem sciences at UC Berkeley who led the study.
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 Food and Agriculture Organization on fish in the region.
They found a 76% decrease in mammals, with many local extinctions. The fewer fish there were year to year, the harder the impact on land animals, they found.
“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,” Brashares added.