Tuesday, March 12, 2013

The Value of Sharks - Paper!


I'm about to piss off some friends - again!
Sorry guys and gals, nothing personal - really!

Anyway, I've been remiss in not posting about Catlin et al.
Abstract 

Non-consumptive wildlife tourism plays an important role both in raising conservation issues and in providing economic support for conservation initiatives.
Although the direct value of wildlife has been historically associated with its consumption, tourism is increasingly being used to value wildlife for its economic and environmental qualities. There are various methods by which these values can be assessed. In particular, there is a recent trend towards ascribing tourism values to individual animals. Such approaches enable direct comparisons with the extractive of use animals. These calculations can depict clear contrasts in value in tourism’s favour which can then be publicised to a wider audience.

Whilst this method may appear desirable, this paper demonstrates that valuations made at the scale of single animal are frequently based on assumptions that may not withstand critique. 
In turn it is argued, that given the flaws in this method, instead of enhancing arguments for conservation it has the potential to weaken its case. It is contended that using tourism to value wildlife should be conducted at a destination or higher level where the arguments have a firmer scientific basis and thus more impact and relevance. 
Like my friends, I was initially outraged.
But upon reflection and discussions with some of my scientific gurus, I've now come to the conclusion that the authors are probably correct. Whereas it is evident that the economic value of Sharks (and other animals) through tourism revenue is multiples of the value of fished Sharks, attributing precise values to single animals per year or over their lifetime is at best a back-of-the-envelope guesstimate and really got no place in peer-reviewed scientific papers.
And yes of course I've fallen into the same trap!

But that was conservation marketing
The fact is that even in the SRMR where we keep detailed tabs and actually know and name many of our Sharks, we ignore the precise total numbers - this also owing to such trivial factors as fluctuating visibility and the different propensity of individual animals to approach within visual range, etc! The fact is also that a fished tourism Shark would likely be replaced by another individual, thus very much relativizing its individual value!
And I spare you the many examples in the paper, some of which are rather egregious indeed!

The take-away message?
Those individual valuations are fluff that will not stand up to scrutiny.
What however is totally valid are nation- and sector-wide valuations, and this especially when based on original research like the Fiji Shark Tourism Valuation as opposed to meta-analysis, uncritical citations and outright hearsay like some other publications.
What is equally valid is to state that a live Shark is more valuable than a dead one - especially if considering its ecosystem services, something that somebody really ought to finally analyze!
Ambitious but not impossible!

So be careful when using those numbers.
They sound great - but in essence, they are not true and as such, bad conservation.

3 comments:

Tropical Selkie said...

Not mad; though I do think there is some unnecessary minutia in this paper. Regardless, the main point is..."What however is totally valid are nation- and sector-wide valuations, and this especially when based on original research like the Fiji Shark Tourism Valuation as opposed to meta-analysis, uncritical citations and outright hearsay like some other publications.
What is equally valid is to state that a live Shark is more valuable than a dead one - especially if considering its ecosystem services, something that somebody really ought to finally analyze!"

More research/paper/reports/publications with results that are useful to conservation, please. Period.

Gabriel Vianna said...

DaShark,
You didn’t piss off friends, there’s nothing wrong with a bit of discussion, after all science is also about contesting ideas. From our end we strongly disagree with many aspects of the Catlin et al. paper. At the moment I can’t go too into details as we have a letter submitted to the journal expressing our view and the flaws in the article. Commenting on that now, before the peer-reviewed process is over, could jeopardize the publication. But as soon as we can openly manifest our opinion about the article and the topic you’ll be the first one to know.
Gabe

DaShark said...

I can imagine the parts you contest, and probably agree.

Still, sector-wide as opposed to individual valuations appear the much more robust approach - or not?

Just teasing, I know you can't discuss.
Looking forward to your letter and will certainly re-post it! :)