Local fish stocks threatened, Nature Fund scientists say

Marine Scientists Pieter van Baren (left) and Arjan de Groene of World Wide Fund for Nature Netherlands.


ST. EUSTATIUS–“There are plenty more fish in the sea than come out of it,” is a romantic idiom on the Caribbean Islands. However, according to two scientific experts who are visiting St. Eustatius and Saba this week there is reason to believe that local fish stocks are threatened and something must be done about it.

The experts are Arjan de Groene and Pieter van Baren of World Wild Fund for Nature Netherlands. For the last seven years, Van Baren has been closely involved in monitoring fish populations in the Caribbean Netherlands and with finding sustainable ways to help fisherman continue to do so.

De Groene is the Fund’s Oceans Programme advisor for the Caribbean Netherlands. “We do not want to sound alarming,” he told The Daily Herald, “but the Caribbean is listed as the second world region for overfishing. Threatened regional species are grouper, shark, queen conch, billfish and parrot fish. Hurricanes and their physical effects are devastating on marine life, but the human effects may be equally catastrophic.”

De Groene whose Dutch name may be translated as “The Green One” is not interested in complaints but answers. “We are not here to play the blame game. We are looking for “blue” solutions. There are many tried and trusted ideas that we could put in place today to boost the economic and cultural importance of fishing for tomorrow.”

Curaçao-born Van Baren agrees. He has fished in the Caribbean waters since he was five years old and has majored in Integrated Coastal Zona Management. His job as programme advisor is to find out how large the problem is on Saba and Statia and to do something about it. His experience and knowledge of how smart and sustainable measures already taken across the world could be vital to managing fish stocks around both islands.

For Van Baren, “Sustainability is all about managing fish stocks in such a way, that future generations can catch the same amount of fish without having to put in an extra effort and without damaging the ecosystem that supports these fish stocks.”

There are differences between the islands in scale and scope, explains Van Baren. On Saba, fisheries contribute eight per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) compared to only one per cent on St. Eustatius. Nine fishing licences are currently in operation on Saba, whereas just over 20 part-time fishermen are at work in Statia.

Saba fish are exported regularly to Statia where they are quickly bought and consumed by the local population. Statia lobsters find their way onto the dining tables of St. Maarten and are even prized by restaurant cooks in faraway places such as Hong Kong.

Government regulation

Fishermen on both islands admit that catches are not what they used to be and some have asked the scientists to work out ways to boost stocks.

One standard method is to control the size of fish traps and the use of biodegradable panels on fish traps.

“A serious problem with fish traps is that they can be dislodged by passing sea vessels. Once freed from their moorings, the traps continue to catch fish endlessly beneath the waves. Such ‘ghost fishing’ is not helpful, hence the need for biodegradable panels that disintegrate after a while, allowing fish to escape,” Van Baren says.

The absence of local fishery officers and good government policies to regulate the commerce of fishing in the Dutch Northeast Caribbean has led to lower catches. “We clearly need more data and decisions about fish stocks,” he states.

To create awareness and start discussions, WWF Netherlands is planning a travelling exhibition by the end of this year.

“Our aim is to provide a point of contact that will bring fishermen, local government and the public together. Local fish is a delicious and very healthy source of protein. Eating our way out of refrigerated food containers from Florida is senseless when we have the ability to be self-sufficient,” De Groene stated.

Local history could also hold a clue as to how fishing today could be improved by methods of yesteryear. Consultation with local experienced fishermen who have been fishing for years or may already be retired may help here.

This week, the two scientists have had detailed talks on how to proceed with many fishermen as well as stakeholders of the fisheries sector like the local Government, the harbour, Caribbean Netherlands Science Institute (CNSI), St. Eustatius Nationals Parks Stenapa and others.

Furthermore, Mike Franco, the new State Commissioner on St. Eustatius, has already signalled his willingness to appoint a local fisheries officer. “We are confident that change can be made locally. And that must be good for the local fishing industry, as well as for the health and wealth of the oceans,” De Groene said.

Source: The Daily Herald https://www.thedailyherald.sx/islands/74690-local-fish-stocks-threatened-nature-fund-scientists-say