Robert E. Johannes, Ph.D.

Title
Deceased
Award Year
1993

Research

Project Details

Johannes used his Pew Fellowship to reactivate his studies of traditional knowledge and resource management systems of tropical, small-scale traditional fishers in Southeast Asia and to integrate this information with conventional western scientific knowledge and methods in order to improve marine resource management.

With Pew support Johannes leveraged additional monies from The Nature Conservancy and the South Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency to conduct a nine-country study of the cyanide fishing trade and its environmental, economic and social effects. Prior to the publication of the results of his investigation of the billion-dollar-a-year live reef food fishery of southeast Asia, the magnitude of the problem of the use of cyanide and other destructive fishing practices was unappreciated. His findings were covered in the international media, which drew significant attention to the issue. Johannes worked not only to focus attention on the problem but also to implement measures to put this trade on an environmentally and economically sustainable basis. This included a three-year research project to develop an economically realistic and simple method for locating, monitoring and managing reef fish stocks based on their spawning aggregations.

Biography

Robert Johannes was a tropical marine ecologist who pioneered an approach to the conservation of marine biodiversity that integrates the specialized ecological knowledge and traditional marine resource management systems of community-based tropical fishing peoples with Western-based scientific management. His work focused on the tropical Pacific islands and Southeast Asia. In particular, he was an international expert on the live reef food fish trade as well as the effects of cyanide fishing.

Johannes' main career objectives included stemming the loss of invaluable traditional ecological knowledge in tropical small-scale fishing communities, helping to put this knowledge to better use in marine resource management and multiplying his impact by teaching others to do likewise and building local capacity. He achieved all of these things, and more.

TRIBUTE TO ROBERT JOHANNES

Robert Johannes died on 4 September 2002 after suffering for a number of years from serious illness. He was 66 years old.

Bob was a tropical marine ecologist and an international expert on the live reef food fish trade and on the effects of cyanide fishing. He pioneered an approach to the conservation of marine biodiversity that integrates the specialized ecological knowledge and traditional marine resource management systems of community-based tropical fishing peoples with Western-based scientific management in order to improve marine resource management.

His efforts in this arena helped highlight the importance of indigenous knowledge and community-based systems as key factors in marine conservation. However, when Bob went to Palau in the mid-1970s to carry out his work, this approach was so inconceivable to his professional colleagues that he was pegged by some as having dropped out, or "gone troppo" to use the Australian term. The Palauans Bob worked with were more favorably impressed. In several villages people commented that while fisheries researchers had visited them before, Bob was "the first one who ever asked us about our knowledge; the others only told us about theirs."

Bob described his Palauan findings in the 1981 book Words of the Lagoon, which was supported by a Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship. The publication was reissued in paperback in 1992 and is considered a classic work in community-based marine resource management. It has been adopted as a supplemental text in a number of graduate fisheries, ocean policy and maritime anthropology courses around the world.

With his Pew Fellowship and leveraged funds from The Nature Conservancy and the South Pacific Forum Fisheries Agency, Bob conducted a nine-country study of the cyanide fishing trade and promoted its environmental, economic and social effects. Until the results of his investigation of the billion-dollar-a-year live reef food fishery of Southeast Asia were published, the magnitude of the problem of the use of cyanide and other destructive fishing practices was unappreciated. His findings were covered in the international media, which drew significant attention to the issue.

Bob strove not only to focus attention on the problem but also to implement measures to put this trade on an environmentally and economically sustainable basis. Over the past few years he was conducting a project to develop an economically realistic and simple method for locating, monitoring and managing reef fish stocks based on their spawning aggregations. This work was being implemented in close cooperation with local fishers.

Bob will remain a historic champion for the critical importance of traditional knowledge to effect sound, sustainable ocean conservation initiatives. He spoke eloquently and with great integrity regarding the view that marine conservation is as much about involving people and incorporating local knowledge and social and economic issues as it is about managing resources. This holistic perspective was exemplified in his interdisciplinary work and his willingness to reach out to many different stakeholders to effect positive change.

Despite his debilitating illness, Bob's dedication to marine conservation and his great care to honor his commitments never flagged. The week before he died, Bob forced himself with great difficulty to attend a conference in Townsville, Australia, on a subject of great concern to him: the plundering of reefs for the aquarium trade.

The PFP staff are honored to count Bob Johannes among those who have received Pew Fellowships. He distinguished the Pew Fellows Program with his exemplary contributions to applied conservation for our global marine environment. Bob will be much missed in the Pew Fellows family. His dedication to combining science with traditional knowledge to support sound policy for the oceans and for society serves as inspiration to our ongoing efforts.

CV

EDUCATION

Ph.D., University of Hawaii
1963: Marine Biology, Hawaii, USA

Master of Science, University of British Columbia
1959: Fisheries, Canada

Bachelor of Science, University of British Columbia
1958: Zoology, Canada

KEY AWARDS & HONORS

Marine Fellow
1993: Pew Fellows Program in Marine Conservation

CSIRO Medal
1990

Guggenheim Foundation Fellowship
1974

SELECT PUBLICATIONS

  • Johannes, R.E. 2002. The renaissance of community-based marine resource management in Oceania. Annual Review of Ecology and Systematics 33:317-340.
  • Heyman, W.D., R.T. Grahan, B. Kjerfve and R.E. Johannes. 2001. Whale sharks Rhincodon typus aggregate to feed on fish spawn in Belize. Marine Ecology - Progress Series 215:275-282
  • Johannes, R.E., M.M.R. Freeman, and R.J. Hamilton. 2000. Ignore fishers' knowledge and miss the boat. Fish and Fisheries 1(3): 257-273
  • Johannes, R.E. 1998. Government-supported, village-based management of marine resources in Vanuatu. Ocean & Coastal Management 4(2): 165
  • Johannes, R.E. 1998. The case for data-less marine resource management: examples from tropical nearshore finfisheries. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 13(6): 243
  • Johannes, R.E. 1997. Coral reef fish aquaculture workshop in Sabah.. SPC Live Fish Information Bulletin #2, May
  • Johannes, R.E. 1997. Wild-caught juvenile reef-fish for farm growout: More research needed on biology and fisheries.. SPC Live Fish Information Bulletin #2, May
  • Johannes, R.E. and M. Riepen. 1995. Environmental, Economic, and Social Implications of the Life Reef Fish Trade in Asia and the Western Pacific. The Nature Conservancy, Washington, DC
  • Johannes, R.E. 1992. The science of Pacific island peoples and marine resource management.. In: Proceedings: Conference on the Science of the Pacific Island Peoples, Suva, Fiji. Proceedings: Conference on the Science of the Pacific Island Peoples, July 7-11
  • Johannes, R.E. and W. MacFarlane. 1991. Traditional fishing in the Torres Strait Islands. CSIRO, Hobart, Australia. (210 pp)
  • Johannes, R.E. and J.W. MacFarlane. 1990. Assessing traditional fishing rights systems in the context of fisheries management: A Torres Strait example. In: Traditional Management of Coastal Systems in the Asia and the Pacific: A Compendium (K. Ruddle and R.E. Johannes eds.). UNESCO, Jakarta, p. 241-261
  • Johannes, R.E. (ed.) (ed.). 1981. Words of the Lagoon : Fishing and Marine Lore in the Palau District of Micronesia. University of California Press (320 pp)