Right to collect

Doug Yanega dyanega at POP.UCR.EDU
Thu Sep 26 10:42:17 CDT 2002

Heike Vibrans wrote:

>Some countries require collecting permits for scientific
>collecting, mainly because of biopiracy concerns, but this
>is borderline for my taste, as it can criminalize
>well-meaning amateurs.


>I don't really see the qualitative difference of a farmer
>collecting food or fuel or medicine and I myself
>collecting for my personal reasons - the effect on the
>vegetation is probably less with my own collection.

This debate comes up frequently, and since it has just started I'll
get my licks in early. I think Heike hints at something that *does*
represent a real reason to have collecting restrictions.

Let's suppose that you walk onto a farmer's land, harvest his crops
in the middle of the night, then go into town and sell them, keeping
all the money for yourself. Should you be allowed to do that? You are
collecting for personal reasons, and doing no more harm to the
vegetation than the farmer would, right?

WRONG. You are making money from the use of someone else's natural
resources, to which you have no legal right - and you are doing so
without the permission of the owner of those resources.

This is the *one* kind of collecting which needs to be regulated, and
it's a simple fact that most governments haven't got a clue as to how
to accomplish this without ALSO regulating the kind of collecting
which harms no one. If I go to a mountain in Thailand and collect 10
specimens of an endemic beetle, and every specimen goes into a
research collection, that's fine - but if someone else goes to the
same place, collects 500 specimens, sneaks them out of the country,
and sells them for $100 each, then that is NOT fine (likewise if they
pay local villagers $1 for every 10 specimens they collect - that is
NOT a fair payment!). The former type of collecting should NOT be
regulated in any form, the latter should. It's quite simple in
theory, but I don't know if you can find ONE country that actually
does things that way (not even New Guinea).

The painfully ironic thing is that if anyone *did*, they'd be able to
actually enjoy some genuine economic benefit from their resources
(e.g., if every insect dealer that sold Thai specimens was forced to
sign an agreement that gave half their profits to Thailand), which
might actually *encourage* conservation efforts. The public demand,
after all, is never going to go away, so until people figure out a
way to play along with that demand, everything is going to be done on
the black market - which pays no attention to conserving resources.
New Guinea does *that* much, but doesn't allow unrestricted
collecting for non-commercial purposes, so they only got it half

It would be nice if every collector in the world were ethical, but
they're not, and those of us who *are* pay the price.


Doug Yanega        Dept. of Entomology         Entomology Research Museum
Univ. of California - Riverside, Riverside, CA 92521
phone: (909) 787-4315 (standard disclaimer: opinions are mine, not UCR's)
   "There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness
         is the true method" - Herman Melville, Moby Dick, Chap. 82

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