(Spanish Wells, Eleuthera, Bahamas) – The commercial fishing community in Spanish Wells has seen a downward trend in their ‘catch’ for the past four to five years, said, President of the Spanish Wells Fishing Association, Mr. Robert Roberts. Currently the owner of a fishing vessel and one who actively fished for twenty five years, Mr. Roberts is intimately aware of the challenges now being faced and the historical background behind what is now being experienced.
Following the return of commercial fishing vessels around the third week in August ahead of the storm travelling at the time, Christobal, the boats which had gone out at the opening of the crawfish season on August 1st, 2014 did not have positive news on their early season performance.
“It’s kind of the writing on the wall that we have seen for the past four to five years. Right now the boats are down probably about 30% over last year, where they were down about 10% from the previous year, so it’s a downward trend”, he explained. According to Roberts there are numerous factors that have played into what is now being seen, and in his opinion the stocks can catch themselves pretty quickly if several things are done.
“First, eliminate foreign poaching, the Dominicans specifically in the southern region, and the US in the northern region. Second, the off season poaching which is done by both is just totally killing the banks – they don’t get a rest time. And third, stop the catching of small crawfish and the spawning crawfish. Fishermen in Freeport have reported they have a major problem with the small tails being taken and sold to the hotels and restaurants – because the Bahamas is not MSC certified. So you can sneak it in.”
The MSC (Marine Stewardship Council), according to Roberts is an agency watching the world’s population of fisheries. The Council’s stated mission, according to their website at www.msc.org, is to use their ecolabel and fishery certification program to contribute to the health of the world’s oceans by recognising and rewarding sustainable fishing practices, influencing the choices people make when buying seafood, and working with their partners to transform the seafood market to a sustainable basis.
Roberts explained, “In 2009 there was a movement started, the FIP (Fisheries Improvement Project), which was geared towards getting our lobster industry MSC certified, because both the United States and the European Union said they would not purchase product from non-MSC certified fisheries.
“It started in 2009 to do the preliminaries and it’s a whole nine yards and you’ve got to put in checks and balances and controls. MSC is predicated on a few major points. One is sustainability. If you cannot show that you have a sustainable industry you can’t become certified. It has not been completed, and at the last stock assessment we asked them to go back and review it because we’re not sure it was right.
“The main thing right now is if we cannot stop foreign poaching 24/7, Bahamian and foreign off season poaching and the taking of small crawfish and spawning crawfish, we are going to come pretty close to losing the industry.”
Roberts added that most of the boats make 70% of their paycheck for the year in August and September, and that right now they are down significantly.
A ‘fishermen only’ meeting was called in the community of Spanish Wells shortly before the boats headed back out near the end of August, and according to Mr. Roberts a significant part of the meeting was geared towards ‘what do we do’, ‘how do we get noticed’, ‘how do we get government to open their eyes and do something’.
“There is actually a big movement going on now between organized fishing communities throughout the Bahamas, including Freeport, Andros, Abaco, Long Island, and Nassau, and at the meeting I informed them that the Spanish Wells Fishing Association was taking on and spearheading a national movement to get noticed both internationally and by government, and that’s about all I can tell you on that right now, but it is already moving, we are trying to get everybody to speak as one voice, and we are trying to get as many international agencies as possible on board”, said Roberts. He emphasized, “We have to get government on board and we need immediate action, bottom line.”