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|Nassau Guardian: Crashing grouper and conch stocks|
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|Posted by:||Oct 2nd 2003, 11:47:45 am|
|Colin||Given the dominant place of the Spanish Wells commercial fishing fleet in the Bahamas I assume the families there are taking every measure to make sure they don't wipe out the source of their livelihood.
How have the catches of reef fish around Briland and Eleutherea been this year? I know this is sort of a separate issue, but it might be interesting to hear how people view any connection there might be.
|Posted by:||Oct 1st 2003, 02:57:09 pm|
|Fig Tree News Team||Crashing conch and grouper stocks
The population of Nassau grouper is crashing due to overexploitation of spawning aggregations, and signs are that conch are being overharvested before they can breed.
These startling conclusions are the result of research by the Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation. The grouper catch in 2001 was less than half a million pounds — about a third of the 1999 catch. And recent surveys of discarded conch shells show that 75 per cent are undersized.
Grouper stocks are approaching the point of no return and we have learned that once the fish are gone they do not come back. So we must either limit our catch or lose them.
Citizens should make their views known and call on our representatives to act decisely on these issues. Copies of an independent fisheries report commissioned by BREEF are available by calling the organisation's office at 362-6477.
We must leave our elected officials in no doubt that we expect them to rescue the grouper and conch. Remember that it is very difficult to get conservation measures adopted. Change is unpopular and data is hard to collect and verify. The easiest time for MPs to act is in the early days of their term. If we act soon, we will be able to take credit for the recovery of our fish stocks at the 2007 poll.
BREEF began its campaign to save the Nassau grouper in 1997. It commissioned a comprehensive study by British fisheries experts which showed that the population decline would become irreversible if conservation measures were not taken. In fact, the Bahamas has the last remaining viable grouper fishery in the entire region, the fish having been pushed to the point of commercial extinction elsewhere.
Fishing contributes more to our gross national product than agriculture, banking or insurance. Landings of conch are valued at over $1.5 million a year and landings of scalefish are valued at over $3 million a year, while the crawfish industry is the world's fourth largest — contributing $65 million to the economy. But catches and average sizes are declining and experts warn that the industry is not being effectively managed.
If the Bahamas continues to expand and develop the fishing industry, without adequate management controls in place, it is inevitable that economic and social benefits from the industry will decline...causing serious economic, social and environmental problems, the report warned.
Protection of spawning aggregations and a three-month ban on grouper fishing during the winter breeding season are two measures that have been suggested to slow the decline. But closed seasons are not a practical option for the conch fishery, which is also in decline throughout the region due to high fishing pressure.
Most scientists agree that the best solution to overexploitation of fish stocks is the creation of a network of marine reserves, similar to the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park which became a no-fishing zone in 1986.
The BREEF report concludes that a system of marine reserves would be "an effective means of promoting sustainable fisheries." Evidence from the Exuma park, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, and other protected areas around the world show that such reserves help replenish declining fish stocks.
We believe that, with the agreement of fishermen, you can close off part of the sea to give our conch and grouper vital breeding space. Each island should have its own marine reserve to spread the burdens and benefits fairly.
In the late 1990's BREEF held workshops with fishermen and local government officials to discuss the creation and siting of marine reserves. The organisation then commissioned four top scientists to rate the 33 sites identified by the workshops. In January, 2001 the government selected five of these sites to be closed to fishing as an experiment. But the policy has not been legally implemented.
The current government must decide the future of the marine reserves policy and whether we will continue to be able to enjoy eating conch and grouper.
We can help raise money to create a network of marine reserves, but ultimately success or failure rests with the Bahamian citizen.
Will you support a closed season for grouper and never buy or catch undersized conch? Will you demand that our politicians implement a system of marine reserves to protect our fishery stocks? It is our responsibility to act now.
BREEF was formed in 1994 to invest in marine environmental education targeting Bahamian science teachers throughout the country. It is a private, non-profit organisation based in Nassau which has helped train hundreds of local teachers at the Gerace Field Station on San Salvador.
Posted Wednesday October 1, 2003
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