Focus on conch, spiny lobster as Caribbean Fisheries Forum opens
The future Caribbean’s conch and lobster sector in remain under threat despite regional efforts to protect both.
These are just two of the issues topping the agenda of the 12th meeting of the Caribbean Fisheries Forum hosted by the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) ongoing at the Fort Young Hotel in Roseau, Dominica.
Acting Permanent Secretary (PS) in Dominica’s Ministry of the Environment, Natural, Physical Planning and Fisheries, Harold Guiste made special mention of the issue while presenting the feature address on behalf of the substantive Minister who was absent because of cabinet.
Mr. Guiste says amidst systems put in place to monitor the harvesting of the delicacies, “it appears some countries are bent on wanting to exercise control over all the resources in the world.”
This echoes concerns of the CRFM which is challenging an initiative by the Environmental Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) Wild Earth Guardians based in Colorado which is petitioning the US government to have queen conch listed as an endangered species in accordance with the US’ Endangered Species Act.
If successful this would immediately halt harvesting of the delicacy and the largest mollusks fished commercially across the Caribbean.
This would hurt several fishing industries in the Caribbean including Jamaica and Belize which are the main exporters to North America, with losses in foreign exchange and jobs.
CRFM Executive Director Milton Haughton said Wild Earth is making its bid based on depletion of the US stock and outdated information regarding the Caribbean’s supplies. He said his organisation has submitted current data to the relevant US authorities.
“If the US went ahead and placed this on their endangered species list then in my opinion it is just a matter of time before other international markets such as the European Union and possibly even Canada would follow suit,” he said.
In his wrap up Mr. Guiste called on the CRFM to work closely with its stakeholders and partners to safeguard against the depletion of the region’s already challenged resources.
“Globally we have noticed a rush to fish accompanied by a lack of responsible behavior in the fishing sector. This type of hooligan behavior has resulted in severe decline in some major fisheries of the world and collapse in some others.”
The spiny lobster industry brings in about US$456 million per year to CARICOM but demand has lead to an unhealthy state of reserves.
The matter has been taken to the Council for Trade and Economic Development COTED and the Ministries of Foreign Affairs in CRFM member countries.
In light of annual, substantial losses caused by Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) fishing the Caribbean Community Common Fisheries Policy is also getting special attention at the meeting.
Mr. Haughton says while regional governments have signed on to the policy mandated by CARICOM close to a decade ago it was not signed at the 25th InterSessional meeting of CARICOM Heads held in March in St. Vincent and the Grenadines.
The common fisheries policy would act as a treaty to guide sustainable contributions for regional development and food security, develop the scientific basis for decision-making, strengthen sanitary and phytosanitary systems and market research which could lead to improved access to overseas markets, through cooperation to increase the fish processing which offers value added products and create jobs.
“We have to strengthen our systems to ensure better conservation and resource management, especially of the resources that are our main commercial resources including lobster and queen conch etc. Long term sustainability is one of the key challenges facing the fisheries sector in the region s well as globally,” he said.
Fourteen of the 17 member countries of the CRFM are present at this year’s meeting, absent are Barbados, Haiti and Suriname. Two observers, The Netherlands and Curacao have expressed an interest in joining the CRFM.