Addressing poaching in marine protected areas through voluntary surveillance and enforcement
Poaching renders many of the world’s marine protected areas ineffective. Because enforcement capacity is often limited, managers are attempting to bolster compliance by engaging the latent surveillance potential of fishers. However, little is known about how fishers respond when they witness poaching. Here, we surveyed 2,111 fishers living adjacent to 55 marine protected areas in seven countries and found that 48% had previously observed poaching. We found that the most common response was inaction, with the primary reasons being: (1) conflict avoidance; (2) a sense that it was not their responsibility or jurisdiction; and (3) the perception that poaching was a survival strategy. We also quantified how institutional design elements or conditions were related to how fishers responded to poaching, and highlight ways in which fishers can be engaged while mitigating risks. These include emphasizing how poaching personally affects each fisher, promoting stewardship and norms of personal responsibility and poverty alleviation to reduce the need for fishers to poach for survival.