Preserving Marine Ecosystems and Local Ways of Life

Robert Pomeroy is professor of agricultural and resource economics at Avery Point and world-renowned expert on small-scale fisheries management and policy. Here he is conducting research in Trang province, Andaman Sea, Thailand.

Robert Pomeroy is professor of agricultural and resource economics at Avery Point and world-renowned expert on small-scale fisheries management and policy. Here he is conducting research in Trang province, Andaman Sea, Thailand.

Robert Pomeroy is as much at home in small fishing villages in Southeast Asia as he is in his office overlooking Long Island Sound at UConn’s Avery Point campus.

Pomeroy, professor of agricultural and resource economics and Connecticut Sea Grant Program Fisheries Extension Specialist in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, is one of the world’s foremost authorities on marine resource economics and policy.

His work in developing countries takes him as far afield as Liberia, Belize, and throughout Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. There, he works to help ensure that the aquatic ecosystems and fisheries on which the livelihoods of millions of local people depend are used and managed sustainably so that they can continue to provide for current and future generations.

“Getting long-term change requires an understanding of things that are important to people, and to be a good development specialist, you really have to be multidisciplinary,” he says.

Growing up on Cape Cod, Pomeroy spent time on his grandfather’s lobster trawler and fished for fun with friends. But it was not until he was enrolled at Johnson State College in Vermont, majoring in environmental studies and biology, that he found his niche.

After completing a master’s degree in agricultural economics at Clemson University and a Ph.D. in resource economics, marketing, and international agriculture at Cornell, Pomeroy spent part of his early career in the Philippines. At the International Center for Living Aquatic Resources Management, now called The World Fish Center, a nonprofit research organization dedicated to reducing poverty and hunger by improving fisheries and aquaculture, he hit his stride, helping to raise $5 million to support the work of the Center.

Pomeroy came to UConn in 2002 to teach and take part in international extension work. Today, he is focused on a project titled “Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries Management (EAFM) in the Coral Triangle.”

Home to approximately 363 million people, the Coral Triangle encompasses almost 4 million square miles of ocean and coastal waters in Southeast Asia and the Pacific, including Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Timor-Leste, the Solomon Islands, and Papua, New Guinea.

The area is the global center for marine biological diversity. However, the economy of the region is now at risk from a wide range of factors, including overfishing, land-based sources of pollution, and climate change. To complicate matters, each country in the Coral Triangle has exclusive rights to marine resources within its territory, and each has its own political and social dynamic.

That’s where Pomeroy’s multidisciplinary acumen comes into the picture. “A lot of the work I do involves working with people at the community level. What people crave is information. We help local fishermen organize; we empower them. We try to give them the tools to overcome the multiple issues that are threatening their way of life. Then they take those tools and educate their peers.”

Pomeroy says the parts of the Pacific that encompass the Coral Triangle are in trouble. “The World Fish Center estimates that the area has been fished down to between 5 percent and 20 percent of its unexploited levels. There are only about 15 percent to 20 percent of coral reefs still in excellent condition. Those are the realities.

“But you have to keep trying,” he says. “The EAFM approach is multidisciplinary, and we are making decisions with the future in mind. It’s our hope that generations to come will benefit from the work we’re doing on their behalf now.”