At a recent regional workshop in Barbados, fisheries officials drew attention to the challenges facing the Caribbean’s fishing industry:
With the global fisheries sector under severe strain from issues such as illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, pollution, climate change, habitat distraction, overcapitalisation and overcapacity, the future of the industry could be described as bleak.
Furthermore, like many other sectors, persons in fisheries have had to mitigate the impact of rising food prices, an economic recession and ineffective conservation and management practices.
The mismanagement of the sector has also come under the spotlight, with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reporting that 32 per cent of the world’s fish stocks were overexploited, depleted, recovering and in need of urgent replenishing, while 15 per cent of the stock groups monitored by the FAO were estimated to be underexploited (three per cent) or moderately exploited (12 per cent) and, therefore, able to produce more than their current catches.
The Caribbean too has not escaped unscathed from this global fisheries crisis. According to the University of the West Indies (UWI) Centre for Resource Management and Environmental Studies (CERMES), there is a wealth of evidence of overexploited and near depleted fish and other aquatic organisms in the region. “Near shore resources fished by small-scale fisheries such as reef fish, conch and lobster are foremost among these,” a release said.
However, a senior fisheries official believes that all is not lost and stakeholders in the sector will have to “think outside the box” if they are to find practical solutions to halt these many challenges.
This advice has come from Chief Fisheries Officer, Fisheries Division, the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management, Stephen Willoughby, who stressed that traditional approaches aimed at developing the long-term sustainability of the fisheries sector have failed and the time has come for new and revolutionary approaches to achieve such a shift.
Mr. Willoughby was speaking yesterday at the opening of a regional workshop entitled: The FAO Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries in the Caribbean: Achieving improved fisheries management and utilisation in the wider Caribbean region at the UWI, Cave Hill Campus.
“Despite [international] instruments, progress to long-term sustainability of fisheries has been slow. Almost 30 years after the introduction of the Law of the Sea Convention and some 15 years after agreement on the Code, there are still major concerns about the poor state of fisheries. The Code was supposed to revolutionise fisheries management and chart a course to long-term sustainability. Today, we are still searching for the elusive sustainability,” he said.
Citing Ecology Today, Mr. Willoughby noted that “there are less fish in the sea than ever before but also more fishermen are trying to net them [more] than ever before. This equation amounts to huge financial losses for the fishing industry – over 50 billion dollars a year and a serious global depletion of a centuries-old food supply.”
The Chief Fisheries Officer alluded to the importance of the regional and worldwide fisheries sector which he pointed out played a key role in providing food nutrition and security as well as employment opportunities and economic wellbeing for billions of persons.
FAO Sub-Regional Coordinator for the Caribbean, Florita Kentish, said the Caribbean was not unique in terms of its fisheries challenges, and stressed that a joint effort was required if the downward trend in regional catches was to be stopped.
She stated that an analysis of the catches in the wider Caribbean region showed increased figures of 2.5 million tonnes up to 1984, followed by a rapid decline between 1984 and 1992. In 2003, the numbers stabilised at 1.5 million tonnes for some years, but further declined over the last few years to 1.3 million tonnes.
“Throughout the world, a lack of responsible behaviour in the fisheries sector has led some of the world’s major fisheries to decline significantly in productivity and, in some cases, to collapse like some of the large pelagic species in the Caribbean. This situation has arisen despite strenuous efforts to conserve and manage resources at both the national and regional levels,” Ms. Kentish remarked.
The FAO official also suggested that a new way of thinking was necessary if change was to be brought about in the way the sector was managed.
“New management approaches are, therefore, being proposed and tested in the region, such as the Ecosystem Approach to Fisheries. Moreover, the Caribbean Community Common Fisheries Policy, which was approved by the CFRM Ministerial Council Meeting in July 2010 is an important effort towards transboundary regional collaboration in fisheries and aquaculture and may be [the] start of a new era with more responsible fisheries in the Caribbean region.”
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[Photo: Terry Dunn]