October 24, 2018

Despite Hurricanes... WWF Boosts Spiny Lobster Fishery

By Jason Smith


GUAYAQUIL, Ecuador --

Fishery improvement projects (FIP), by definition, are not usually easy endeavors.

That's especially been the case in the Bahamas with spiny lobster, a fishery that achieved the Caribbean's first Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification in August after the Bahamas Marine Exporters Association, engaged in a lengthy FIP using a model developed by the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF). “That was a huge accomplishment for such a complex fishery going from nothing to full certification,” said Casey Marion, the director of sustainability initiatives at Jacksonville, Florida's Beaver Street Fisheries.

A Beaver Street subsidiary, Tropic Seafood, is a major exporter of Bahamaian spiny lobster. Tropic was a founding member of the exporter's association and has worked to build its capacity.

"Conducting the FIP, Marion said, speaking to Undercurrent News on the sidelines of the Global Aquaculture Alliance's Global Outlook on Aquaculture Leadership conference, involved multiple efforts to improve the fishery's governance". This included reaching an agreement through the exporters association and lobster harvesters to avoid taking undersized lobsters. Additionally, an education campaign helped to crack down on illegal, unreported and unregulated lobster fishing, Marion said, and research was undertaken to answer fundamental questions about the nature of the spiny lobster fishery. “Where is it born, hatched grow, where does it reproduce, what does this life cycle look like,” he said.

The high-end shellfish is in growing demand in the US and Europe, and, increasingly, Asia, but governance for the fishery in the Caribbean nation was traditionally not well developed. According to an assessment report produced as part of the MSC process, lobster fishing in the Bahamas is accomplished through traps and "collection by hand, hooks and spears from condominiums". Data collection is still a "weak spot" the report noted, but around 2,800 metric tons of spiny lobster tails were harvested in 2016 and 61t of whole lobster. There is little bycatch from the fishery, but foreign IUU, mostly from the Dominican Republic, is still an issue -- Bahamians are able to harvest lobsters year-round without a license.

"The level of IUU fishing has reduced significantly in recent years, as The Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) has been allocated additional resources for at-sea patrols and inspections, but IUU has most likely not been eradicated," the report stated.


Marion added that hurricanes pose a further challenge to spiny lobster harvesters. Last year's devastating Hurricane Irma disrupted fishing significantly. "At least with Irma last year the timing of the hurricane came after fishermen had had the chance to harvest a few rounds," Marion said. That wasn't the case with the recent passing of Hurricane Florence. “It was a very tough beginning of the season. A lot of the traps got displaced during Irma last year so we were already out,” he said. “The ramifications of losing the traps didn’t really affect us as much then as it does now.” Still, he said, consumer demand for spiny lobster -- which is processed by Tropic and then sent to the US to be distributed by Beaver Street -- remains steady. He added that five, six, seven, and eight-ounce tails are the target sizes for foodservice customers with larger sizes tray-packed for retail customers. “The demand is there. If we have the product the demand is there for us to distribute out," he said.


Marion added that the Bahamas FIP was a good example of collaboration, something he'd like to see more of, not just from industry but from the multiple non-governmental Organizations (NGO) involved in fisheries projects. “It took a force beyond government and I think that can be seen pretty consistently with other FIPs that are going on around the world today,” he said. He gave the example of a snapper conservation FIP Beaver Street is involved in, in Indonesia. “Industry has to work collectively together. There are all sorts of factors when it comes to FIPs. Everybody’s situation is unique but everybody needs to come together to capacity build to see what gaps need to be filled,” Marion said.

NGOs have a chance to “really steer the industry” if they could strategically collaborate, and focus on a handful of key species for a targeted period of time, he said, as opposed to taking a "shotgun approach" to fisheries around the world. "Because they’re doing the funding, they have the resources, and the people. If they could really focus and say we’re going to focus on these top ten and work here for a few years they could really make a difference. Once we’ve got those under control, industry as a whole, can really steer the retailers and foodservice," he said. "I think that’s what’s really going to move the needle, otherwise we’re all going to be in silos.”

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