Factors associated with illegal fishing and fisher attitudes toward sturgeon conservation in the southern Caspian Sea
Multiple anthropogenic threats including excessive and illegal exploitations threaten marine biodiversity and sustainability across the globe. Sturgeons of the Caspian Sea are exposed to the extinction risk mainly due to the severe impacts by illegal fishing activities for caviar. Here we aimed to identify geospatial determinants contributing to illegal sturgeon fishing throughout the southern Caspian Sea, and to evaluate the role of geography, demography and awareness on fisher attitudes toward sturgeon conservation through the analysis of field- and questionnaire-based survey data from 501 fishers. Generalized additive model showed the associations between the occurrence of illegal fishing and geospatial variables indicating that illegal fishing was more concentrated on deeper and more distant fishing grounds. The map of areas under fishing pressure illustrated that fishers target a broad fishing grounds with spatial variability in targeted boundaries across the sea due to the geographic and ecological variations such as the slope of the continental shelf. By using structural equation modelling/path analysis, it was found that demographic (middle-age adults with higher literacy) and geographic variables (residence location and fishing zone) as well as awareness were positively associated with fisher attitudes toward sturgeon protection whilst conservation attitudes were less positive among illegal fishing communities. These findings improve our understanding of illegal sturgeon fishing, and given the role of fishers' behavior, awareness and attitude in the occurrence of illegal fishing, involving local communities in the decision making and enforcement processes can assist policy makers and managers in preventing this serious problem.
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