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‘Folly’: Over one-third of fish catches shady

• Conch: 23% ‘harvested illegally’

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Bahamians were yesterday warned it was “folly” to believe the oceans have an inexhaustible fisheries supply after it was revealed that 36 percent of landed catches are illegal or unregulated.

Paul Maillis, the National Fisheries Association (NFA) director, told Tribune Business that the country suffers from a “cloud of the unknown” as to the health of its fisheries resources because too many catches are either improperly reported or not recorded at all.

As a result, he was “not shocked” by an Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) report’s estimation that more than one-third of Bahamian fisheries catches fall into the illegal, unreported or unregulated (IUU) category - thereby representing a significant threat to the industry’s long-term sustainability and the livelihoods of many families and communities.

The data, contained in a report on The Bahamas’ so-called “blue economy” potential, which focuses on sustainably monetising the nation’s ocean resources, cited the Queen Conch as a prime example of these concerns. The IDB document suggested that almost one-quarter of all conch landings are illegal, and that some 60 percent are harvested before they can reproduce.

“The Bahamas deep-water offshore environment creates a rich diversity of marine species as the fisheries sector contributes around 1 percent to GDP, being the second [largest] exporter of fisheries products in the Caribbean,” the report said.

“The Bahamas produced 11,400 tons from captured fisheries in 2017, with the Caribbean spiny lobster and the queen conch accounting for about 68 percent and 29 percent of total catches respectively, with an annual contribution of 5.6m pounds in spiny lobster catch in 2017.”

However, warning that this performance could be endangered long-term, the IDB said: “The sustainability of these fisheries, as well as other fisheries - queen conch, Nassau grouper, snappers, stone crab and others - is challenged by the Government capacity to address IUU fishing as is estimated that 36 percent of all Bahamian landings fall under the IUU category.

“Queen conch constitutes the second biggest fishery in the country, with landings valued at $3m-$5m per year, and it is estimated that 23 percent of conch is harvested illegally and six out of ten are harvested before they are ready to reproduce.

“There is a need to strengthen the fisheries management plans, in combination with the use of new technologies such as vessel monitoring systems, regional and international partnerships and efficient licensing of fishing vessels to support the sustainability of the marine species,” it continued.

“Experience in other countries shows that the community-based approach to fisheries management could be more sustainable in the long-term, particularly in remote archipelagos where enforcement by fisheries authorities faces constraints.”

Mr Maillis told Tribune Business that numerous studies, especially by Dr Kathleen Sullivan Sealey, had come up similar figures to the IDB report’s 36 percent when it came to the amount of lobster (crawfish) that was caught illegally in The Bahamas.

“I’m not shocked by the figure. It’s not a surprise to me,” he added. “We have lots of recreational fishermen in this country, Bahamians as well as tourists, who do not report their catches. There are tens of thousands of them each year.

“There are commercial fishermen that do accurately report their catches, but sometimes it’s very difficult because they base it on the weight of sale as opposed to weight of the catch. There can be substantial differences.”

Mr Maillis explained that fish catches could lose up to 60 percent of their weight if filleted before they were sold, resulting in a major reduction that potentially skewed records. “And there’s a lot of fishermen that do not report outright,” he added.

“There’s not a strict mandate for commercial fishermen to report their catches under existing legislation. It’s never really been a big thing. There hasn’t been a lot of pressure from the science community or Department of Marine Resources to find out this information for many, many decades.

“It’s changing now. For many years, and most of the history of Bahamian commercial fisheries, this data has been lost. The only accessible data here is export data, and that probably represents only treated and sold product - not what is caught,” Mr Maillis continued.

“The 36 percent figure is accurate, though not all of it is illegal. A lot of it is unreported, a portion of which can be said to be illegal given the problems we have coming from Florida poachers, Cuban poachers, Dominican poachers and Bahamian poachers.

“We have a lot of different ways in which seafood is leaving the country, or is being consumed illegally without being reported.” The National Fisheries Association director said there were only “limited ways” in which the problem could be addressed, such as mandating accurate reporting by commercial fishermen as a condition for the annual renewal of their licences.

As for recreational fishermen, fisheries officers would need to check and record their catches for accuracy - an exercise requiring significant time and manpower. “We won’t know how to properly regulate if we do not know how much is taken from our waters,” Mr Maillis told Tribune Business.

“We can feel things are going wrong and try and make corrections, or work out what is going wrong and take action but, until then we will have this cloud of the unknown as to what is truly in our ocean.

“A prevailing mindset in this country is our oceans are infinite and cannot be exhausted, but as a commercial fisherman I can tell you that a very productive area can be over-fished in a short period of time and not replenished for a very long time. It’s folly for us to continue on this path of the unknown. It’s so dangerous.”

Calling for “greater national attention and focus” on this issue, including by the Cabinet, legislative process and Department of Marine Resources, Mr Maillis said it was vital to alter what he described as a “lackadaisical” approach to the Bahamian fisheries industry’s long-term sustainability.

He described the Queen conch as a prime example of this trend, adding: “We have gross over-harvesting of conch in this country. While most expert fishermen know where they can get conch, the vast generating habitats of conch have been hugely depleted..... Travelling through renowned conch areas you can hardly find any where there should be thousands.”

One consequence, Mr Maillis said, was that recreational fishermen - both tourists and Bahamians - struggle to find Queen conch because stocks have been “reduced to the point where they are only accessible to experienced Bahamian fishermen”.

“We have to take the conch problem very seriously,” he added.

Comments

DiverBelow 6 months, 1 week ago

It is an amazing common-sense phenomenon, when you kill all the sexually active adults, you will run out. Dead chicken can't make egg.

The taking of flared & thick lip conch is the death of that resource. The immature conch is a 'roller', no flare. When it becomes sexually active they develop a flare for propagation purposes. The thickness of the shell in the flared area indicates the age of the conch, the thicker the shell the older the animal, they can only add nacra (shell) on the inside of shell by the meat, the outside is worn off by movement & parasitic fouling/boring growths.

The mature female conch continues to lay multiple egg-masses in a season with several thousand eggs per mass... of these tide-floating larvae, only one (1) will reach sexual maturity. If she cannot find a male she cannot propagate. Hence thick lipped conchs need to be allowed to survive and maintain the population.

Go to any conch boat, all you see are thick lipped shells. Growing up in northern islands, the locals knew not to take thick lipped conch, the meat was TOUGH AS HELL, grey & unappealing from years of dragging that shell through sand, grass and reef. This was an unintentional management of the local resource. No More, Today, if it has meat, it's mine!

If you won't allow controls via a lip thickness measuring devise, then no-take zones or MPA areas will need to be established, managed & enforced. Given Space & Time populations can come back. Rules with no enforcement are hallucinations.

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IslandWarrior 6 months, 1 week ago

The unknown is an "unknown" by design, Mr Maillis.

Recently through research, I am conducting highlighted [that unreported catches by recreational tuna fishers operating from foreign pleasure boats in The Bahamas, where owners on weekend fishing trips or (and sometimes month-long visits) were using a "$10" fishing permit to rake in hundreds of thousands of dollars, from a "by design" IUU fishing and docking business operated by Bahamians and Forengers from the proliferation of unregulated marinas that quietly popped up throughout the Bahamas over the years.

It was revealed that the last time the Bahamas reported any catch data was in 2009, particularly data on tune catches. This absence in data, which should be recorded and used by international organisations such as ICCAT in determining tuna stocks assessments, created an effect that resulted in inaccurate stock assessments for decades.

Di Natale et al.(2013), the data from this huge Atlantic area have been poor for many years, some catch data were reported to ICCAT up to 2008, and then they entirely disappeared when ICCAT Rec.

To understand why this is happening, we must understand what is being caught by the "by design" IUU fishing business in the Bahamas by the so-called" Foreign Recreational Visitor. It's a 3-5-year-old under 63kg tuna; the size agreed internationally should not be caught and should be allowed to grow to an age where the tuna can reach spawning age. But here is the catch-22 for the blistering sportfishing business in the Bahamas, a 69kg and over is a tuna in the 100s of pounds, far beyond the size a typical weekend, a line and reel can handle, so the industry will not support or allow any management of the industry - as the report by Nicola Smith exposed:

The True Extent of Fishing in the Bahamas

https://youtu.be/hJSMpCQ9I0g">https://youtu.be/hJSMpCQ9I0g

The "By Design" IUU Fishing Operation in The Bahamas Valued In The Area of Six (6) Billion Dollars over the years - Sun SentinelSun-Sentinel 2003

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JackArawak 6 months, 1 week ago

The reason the fishing industry isn’t better regulated is because the government doesn’t give a sheet. About anything. Except pillaging the public purse, flashy international travel and bros before ho’s Fifty years of failure.

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