By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
THE Bahamas' $70 million per year spiny lobster (crawfish) exports are under pressure from market access and poaching issues, the Department of Marine Resources' director told Tribune Business yesterday.
Michael Braynen, who was attending the Caribbean Fisheries Forum, a technical advisory board of the regional fisheries organisation, the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM), said the two issues were equally concerning.
Mr Braynen told Tribune Business: "In terms of the spiny lobster export industry, the value of our exports on an annual basis is generally around $70 million a year. This is a substantial earning of foreign exchange for the country.
"It provides employment and income for thousands. It is estimated that 12,000 Bahamians are involved in the industry in one way or the other, whether fishing full-time or part-time, or working in the processing of this marine product. It is the most important aspect of our fisheries, and the one we should be paying the most attention to."
Mr Braynen added: "The problems that we face in this fisheries industries is not only poaching but also issues of market access. That is, continuing to be able to sell our products in various markets around the world. We have to meet various requirements, sometimes requirements related to food safety and sanitation. People are concerned about how the product was obtained, if it was obtained legally and whether or not the fishermen are being well taken care of. There are a wide variety of things."
Mr Braynen said the Bahamas loses millions of dollars of marine product each year because of poaching.
"In terms of poaching, we don't know the exact amount, but it certainly is in the area of millions of dollars a year, because the principal product that they are poaching is the spiny lobster, and this is the high value item," he explained.
"When poaching vessels have been apprehended we have found sizeable quantities of lobster on board. Millions of dollars of fisheries products are being lost from the Bahamas because of this problem. This is a problem that not only the Bahamas is facing, but a number of other Caribbean countries as well."
Mr Braynen added: "We have issues with how we actually manage our fisheries sector, the collection of data and keeping records on the quantity of fish caught. This information is extremely important to help us better manage the fisheries resources."
Mr Braynen said the Bahamas is also interested in developing policies to govern the aquaculture sector, noting that other Caribbean countries were much more advanced in this industry.
"Aquaculture is being addressed in a number of ways. Aquaculture is much more advanced in many of our neighbouring Caribbean countries. A number of countries are working towards developing policies to govern the aquaculture sector. This is something the Bahamas is very interested in as well," he added.