In an ideal world, research studies and monitoring efforts would take place in areas where the need for this knowledge is greatest. For example, studies focusing on plastic pollution’s effect on ocean ecosystems should examine areas with high amounts of plastic pollution and biodioverse marine habitats. Studies examining the economic impact of overfishing should be based on regions that derive a high amount of local revenue from commercial fishing and that currently put heavy fishing pressure on their associated coastal ecosystems.
However, in practice this is rarely the case. The scientists that are most competitive for research grants are those typically who work at well-known universities or research centers, which in turn are more likely to be headquartered in developed countries. Conversely, you are more likely to see marine ecosystems that exhibit high amounts of biodiversity and that face significant risk of overharvesting and unregulated fishing surrounding underdeveloped nations. Though industrial fishing may not play as much of a role in the economy of small island nations, undeveloped countries do tend to have less restrictions and less local research to inform fisheries and ecosystem management practices.
These trends were confirmed in a recent manuscript published in PLOS One, entitled “Artisanal Fisheries Research: A Need for Globalization?” The team of authors, hailing from the Federal University of Alagoas in Brazil, examined over 1,000 articles studying small-scale artisanal fishing published from 1973-2014. And while the majority of artisanal fisheries exist in undeveloped or low-income nations, the authors observed that the majority of these publications came out of Canada, the United States, Brazil, Spain, and the United Kingdom.
While there are many circumstances where researchers examine international study sites (meaning that a fisheries professor from British Columbia could be publishing manuscripts on the fishing industry in the Cook Islands), the authors make a point that this type of international research is a poor substitute for funding research in developing nations. While these areas certainly face large data-deficits, many times international researchers don’t have the political or communal sway that local scientists to. And if the whole point of examining these developing nations and their fisheries is to better manage the scarce resources from which the country derives its income, then it would follow that you’d want someone who the local policy makers know and trust and someone who knows the culture of the nation intimately to perform this research. Therefore, this article makes a compelling case for expanding scientific funding for developing nations, especially those with valuable and abundant marine resources. If we want to protect our global marine ecosystems, we need to make more of an effort to reduce geographical bias in our peer-review and publication system.
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