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Seagrass meadows are very reliable fishing grounds

Seagrass meadows are often used as a fishing habitat across the Indo-Pacific region, sustaining millions of households. A new study published in the journal Ocean & Coastal Management has found that seagrass fisheries provide a reliable safety-net for the poor since they are characterized by a high abundance of fish and other animals and provide large catches for fishermen. 

The scientists conducted interviews with people relying on fishing from 147 villages across Cambodia, Tanzania, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia, and were surprised to find that the majority of the persons they spoke to preferred seagrass meadows as fishing habitats. 

“Seagrass was the most common habitat used for fishing. Nearly half of all households we talked to preferred fishing in seagrass over other habitats such as coral, mangroves, open ocean, mud and rock for example,” said study lead author Benjamin Jones, a doctoral student at the University of Stockholm and director of Project Seagrass, a nonprofit organization focused on the conservation of seagrass ecosystems. 

“This was surprising because most people think of reef fisheries as the key tropical small-scale fishery, but we show that its actually engagement in seagrass fisheries that are much more characteristic of households.”

When asked why they preferred seagrass, most fishermen expressed a general feeling of reliability: due to the major ecological role seagrass meadows play by providing valuable nursery habitats with many places for fish to hide and grow, there is always an abundance of fish present there. However, reliance on seagrass appeared to be also influenced by household income.

“Household income had two different effects. On one hand, poorer households were less likely to own motorboats. These were reliant on seagrass as they were unable to fish elsewhere, seagrass is close to shore and easy to access without a motor. On the other hand, wealthier households were more likely to own certain types of fishing gear that incentivized them to use seagrass due to high rewards and low effort requirements. These were static fishing fences that don’t require a fisherman to be present,” explained Jones.

“Our results highlight the need for empirical household scale data for management of seagrass meadows,” added study senior author Leanne Cullen-Unsworth, the Director of Research and Resources at Project Seagrass. “People use and value seagrass for many different reasons so safeguarding seagrass is vital to ensure that all people, all of the time, have equitable and equal access to the resources seagrass provides,” she concluded.

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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