By DENISE MAYCOCK
Tribune Freeport Reporter
THE Little Bahama Bank (LBB) is on the verge of collapse, according to a Bahamian commercial fisherman who claims that the catch rate has significantly declined there due to overfishing, lack of proper enforcement of the fisheries laws and illegal fishing activities.
The LBB, which covers 1,000 square miles and is mostly less than 20ft deep, extends along the northern coasts of Grand Bahama and Abaco.
David Rose, a commercial fisherman of 40 years, describes the Bank as a “commercially endangered” area, and fears that marine resources will soon disappear.
“Tremendous amount of commercial fishing going on there, and it is crashing right now, the catch rate has gone way down,” he said. “If some hard decisions are not made to really manage the marine resources of our country, the rest of world will be annoyed at us if we don’t do this - if we fail to protect this little portion of the world.
“There needs to be some real studies, and changes to some of the rules, and enforcing a lot of the laws that are not being properly enforced, or our nation’s marine resources will disappear,” said Mr Rose.
He said that LBB serves as a spawning ground for many marine species, especially grouper and lobster, and that the use of air compressors has allowed fisherman to remain underwater for longer periods of time to catch more lobster.
According to the law, he noted that compressors can only be used in not less than 30ft of water, but no more than 60ft. “That would mean if they follow the rule of law they would not be allowed to fish on LBB,” he said, adding that the law is not really being enforced.
Mr Rose said that permitting the use of condominiums has also contributed to overfishing. Tens of thousands of condominiums, he stated, are set down in waters at LBB, which has resulted in the massive harvesting of lobster.
“When lobsters are harvested using condominiums, they are the type that have seldom grown to the age where they would have been reproductive,” he explained.
Mr Rose indicated that condominiums are prohibited in waters in the US. “At first compressors and condos were illegal in the Bahamas, but the laws have been changed by the government,” he said.
Mr Rose said line traps have also contributed to overfishing. The line has a set of 20 traps and many small fish and other by-catch are caught in the traps and are disregarded, he said.
He also noted that fishermen sometimes leave their traps unattended for long periods. “I have found many lines of traps on the bottom not attended to in a timely fashion by fishermen and they are filled with dead fish. The amount of fish that died is astounding.
“The dead fish then becomes bait for the new fish to come in and it is a continuous process - it is called ghost fishing. Millions of pounds of fish have been destroyed by use of traps because fisherman are now allowed to be lazy.”
He also noted that when the season closes for grouper and lobster, line/wire traps remain in the water. “They are not required to take them out of the water so they continue to catch groupr and lobster,” he said.
Mr Rose stated that there are many no-take zones that are not observed and illegal spear fishing is occurring one mile from shore. It is illegal to spearfish 200 yards from any Family Island, he said.
He also noted that it is illegal to use breathing apparatus to catch fish or marine products, the exception is snorkel or air-compressor. He said a licence must be acquired from the Fisheries Department.
Mr Rose said poaching is another major issue at LBB. “Foreign fishermen come under the guise of tourism and harvest marine resources. There are considerable amount of poachers that come in the Bahamas on a yearly basis,” he said.
He said there are inadequate enforcement officers in Grand Bahama to protect marine resources from poachers. “The Defence Force, Police and Fisheries Department do not have the resources or wherewithal to able go out there. In Grand Bahama, we have one fisheries officer and is doing his best, but so many people are out breaking the law, you can go 10 feet off the shoreline.”
Dominican vessels are running rampant at LBB, he said.