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TAKE ACTION NOW TO SAVE ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA'S CORAL REEFS
Tuesday 26th June 2012

Photo by Vanessa Hall/vanessahallphotography.com.

On Monday, June 18, the recently-formed Antigua Conservation Society started a petition addressed to the Prime Minister, the Honourable Dr. Baldwin Spencer, entitled ‘Take action now to save Antigua and Barbuda’s coral reefs’.  In just over a week, the total number of signatures on the petition already tops 1,750.

The petition is a desperate plea to the government of Antigua and Barbuda from residents and visitors to the twin-island nation to enact legislation that was originally tabled in 2004 to protect the marine environment.  Eight years later, this legislation remains unsigned and therefore ineffective.

There currently is an almost total lack of management of fisheries which is having a huge impact on Antigua and Barbuda’s fragile marine ecosystems.  The inadequate legislation that is currently in place is unmanaged and unenforced, making the few protections that it does provide ineffective.  Without the enforcement of closed seasons and the proper protection of existing Marine Protected Areas, among other things, there is little chance that the natural replenishment of our marine wildlife will have any chance of occurring.  It is currently common practise for fishers to use methods such as gill netting which results in the deaths of many untargeted species such as sea turtles and other marine wildlife not specifically intended to be captured.

Many of Antigua and Barbuda’s reef fish are exported on a large scale to islands throughout the Caribbean and, in addition, lobsters are reported to be shipped in mass quantities to China.  In many cases, these fish are being exported through Antigua’s Fisheries Department.  One of the reasons that the export business is so profitable for Antiguan and Barbudan fishers is because other Caribbean islands have strict marine management policies including closed seasons which are strictly enforced to allow the natural replenishment of marine species.  It is not uncommon for foreigners to fish freely in Antiguan and Barbudan waters, particularly those from neighbouring French islands, which adds an increased threat to our marine environment as well as to the livelihood of local fishermen.

Parrot fish are one species in particular which are of the greatest concern.  They clean algae off the reefs keeping them healthy while creating sand for our beaches.  If the Parrot or ‘chub’ fish disappear, we will see the demise of the white sand beaches for which Antigua and Barbuda is so famous.  Barbuda-based marine biologist John Mussington recently expressed concern about foreign fishermen setting gill nets off the shores of Barbuda which are specifically targeting Parrot fish.  He indicates that having cleaned out the stocks in Antigua, these foreigners are now targeting Barbuda.  Concerned Barbudans have tried everything to stop the practices including contacting the Coast Guard, but their efforts have so far gone unanswered.  Meanwhile, the hands of the Chief Fisheries Officer are pretty much tied in terms of stopping current practices until new legislation is enacted.

The Fisheries Act and Regulations [2004] will make significant changes to the current outdated legislation and will provide for far greater protection of Antigua and Barbuda’s natural marine environment and resources.  They include many new protections which should help to provide an environment of natural replenishment of species whose stocks are quickly becoming threateningly low.

Changes and new provisions are extensive and include the following:

1. Tighter and stricter controls on vessel registration, certification and inspection.

2. Restrictions on sport fishing vessels including limiting the weight of catch, prohibiting them from having lobster, conch or turtle on board and, in the case of foreign sport fishing vessels, prohibiting the sale of the catch.

3. Special permits will be required for local commercial fishermen to catch lobster and conch.

4. Fishers (and not just vessels) will be required to be registered as local commercial fishers and will require a minimum of two years of previous commercial fishing experience to obtain a licence or they will be designated as a trainee commercial fisher.

5. The Chief Fisheries Officer will have the authority to impose strict fines and suspend licences for violations or refuse to issue licences if there are grounds for refusal.

6. Regulations respecting artificial reefs and fish aggregating devices.

7. Greater protection for conch and lobster including a closed season for lobster proposed to be from May 1 to June 30 in each year and a closed season for conch still to be defined.

8. Greater protection for turtles including prohibiting the taking of Hawksbill and Leatherback turtles among others, prohibiting taking turtles with eggs or when found on shore, and putting size restrictions on other turtles that may be taken should the Minister declare an open season for turtles.

9. The ability to designate turtle nesting areas to provide additional protection to nesting turtles.

10. The requirement for a permit to collect cockle except for personal consumption but imposing a limit on the number of cockle to be taken for personal use.

11. Imposing a size restriction on the catch of Channel Catfish in designated inland waterways.

12. Restrictions on fresh water fishing methods.

13. A special permit will be required for beach seine nets.

14. A permit will be required to introduce non-indigenous fish and live aquatic organisms.

15. Restrictions on mesh sizes for nets, regulating gill nets and imposing general gear specifications as well as guidelines on incidental catch and labelling of all gear.

16. More overall authority for the Fisheries Department and the Chief Fisheries Officer.

For more information or to sign the petition, please click here.

By Kathy Lammers, Editor of Antigua’s Yachting Insider
 


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