THE amount of fish caught in Turks and Caicos waters from 1950 to 2012 is estimated to be 86 per cent higher than previously thought, according to a new scientific study.
The study, published in the latest issue of Frontiers in Marine Science, says that conch, lobster and fish catches have been underestimated historically because official figures have not always included seafood eaten by Turks and Caicos Islanders (TCI), and by tourists to the country.
“DEMA (Department of Environment and Maritime Affairs) has done a great job of monitoring fish sold to the country’s fish plants,” said Aylin Ulman, a researcher at the world-renowned Institute for the Oceans and Fisheries in Vancouver, Canada. “However, it seems they have not always had enough staff to monitor seafood being sold or given to locals and tourists, whether that be at the dock, in shops, or in restaurants.”
Using recently developed mathematical models and newly collected data, Ulman’s research team have been able to project the most accurate estimates to-date of fish consumption by TCI residents and tourists. “The new numbers are worrying,” Edward Hind, another member of the research team, said. “It was already thought that catches of conch might be too high, and now we know they were even higher.”
The research team concluded that conch, and perhaps several other species, are being over-consumed to a level where they will not be able to replenish themselves.
In addition, the study draws attention to the rising population of the TCI and the increasing numbers of visiting tourists. “The government wants population and tourism growth for the sake of the economy,” Hind said. “That’s great, but they’re going to eat even more conch. It won’t be possible to catch more, or even as much as is being caught currently. Perhaps policy-makers can work with fishermen and fish plant owners to help them get more money for their conch catches within the TCI?”
However, he researchers are quick to emphasise that the new data may actually present an opportunity. “The staff at DEMA now have the knowledge to set catch limits that really will work,” Ulman said. “If the government supports the TCI’s fisheries scientists in collecting better catch data going forward, then the country can have healthy fisheries for decades to come.”