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Sunday 14th April 2013

We share Eli Fuller's recent blog posted on about his latest thoughts on Antigua's new Fisheries Regulations.

'The 1990 Fisheries Regulations (which were not even being enforced) are no longer being used in Antigua and Barbuda and we have new rules pay attention to. Thankfully at the start of February this year, our fishers are being guided by a new set of regulations which they themselves helped create. These new regulations were created thanks to consultations with stakeholders which went on for years. Fishers, their representative organizations and environmental groups met with government reps again last summer to review the draft regulations which had been sitting unsigned on the Minister's desk for years. These second round of consultations which took place both here in Antigua and in Barbuda at the start of last summer actually suggested tougher regulations which essentially had a more sustainable-use approach than before.

There have been several very loud people in the media who have been suggesting that I (Eli Fuller) helped create these new regulations to suit my own agenda. This is hilarious for several reasons. First of all, I never attended any of the first consultations which ended up creating the first unsigned draft regulations of 2004. Then when our Minister called for a fresh round of consultations on the Fisheries Act and the draft regulations I did not attend these either. In fact, I have never had any meetings with any minister or any Fisheries officer or any other government representative to discuss anything within the new 2013 Fisheries Regulations. It's a complete mistake for fishermen around Antigua and Barbuda to believe that I have had any input whatsoever on what the regulations are calling for.

That all being said, let me explain what I did do, and how I feel about the new regulations. What I did was complain like so many others that our fishery was being used in a way that was unsustainable. Fish stocks were being depleted and the apparent lack of management had plenty to do with many of the problems that fishers were facing out on the water and back here on land. It was a no brainer that we needed seasons for certain species and last spring when called by the media to comment on the fact that Chinese businessmen were buying all available lobster here and exporting them, I said that we needed new regulations to be signed. In May, I got tired of complaining and hearing complaints about all the issues to do with fishing and decided to do more. I got together with The Antigua Conservation Society and we started an aggressive petition to the PM asking him to intervene. We felt that whatever was in the unsigned draft regulations sitting on the Ministers desk needed to be signed and implemented. After all, it was developed with the input of fishers and their organisations. That's what Eli Fuller did! I called for all of us fishers to be guided by new rules and regulations so that our children and our children's children may be able to fish here in our waters some day in the future. Many said that we should leave it alone. "When it's done, it's done!" is what some said. I didn't think that was right and I am happy that I got involved to push for change.

Now I am being accused of creating fisheries regulations which hurt poor people and help me. Typical coming from men like James Tanny Rose I guess. Tanny (interesting article and comments) is a man who I have never met, but who has always astonished me. I don't know how he is permitted to be a beacon of hate on the call in radio stations. Using ethnic slurs to describe races of people here on the island and derogatory descriptions of others who are not as "picky head" as he says he is because they came from other shores just is disgusting, and the media should be ashamed of themselves in 2013 to permit people like him to get away with it. He filled the airwaves apparently with untruths about the new regulations and how they came about. Anyway, I hope that the next time someone like him starts bashing me on this issue using racist descriptions or not, there will be someone else who has the facts which are simply that I called for new regulations but had no input whatsoever on what are in them.

Clearly I feel that generally it's a good thing that we now have some rules on fishing in place out there on the ocean and here on land. I have not had a chance to read the 2013 fisheries regulations but I have registered as a fishermen. The first thing anyone noticed when they go and register is that being registered with Social Security, Medical Benefits, and the Education Levy department are prerequisites. This is a big shock to many fishers who have fished for years without ever paying into these schemes. Many had no idea that they were required to by law, and some fishers are furious that Fisheries is forcing them to sign. I think that it's a bit much really and obviously this policy is something coming from an another area within the Government. Maybe even the IMF were involved, but I doubt the Minister or the Chef Fisheries Officer had anything to do with that requirement (and neither did I). I guess it may be a good things though to be registered with Medical Benefits if you are a fisherman. It can be a dangerous job out there and having free medical after you register and pay your modest contributions is very beneficial. I am told that every fisherperson must be registered with Fisheries unless you are fishing off the beach or off the rocks.
There are other controversial things in the new regulations, and one which creates the most noise has to do with spear fishing. Up until Feb 1st this year spear fishing in Antigua and Barbuda was only legal if you had a special permit from the Chief fisheries officer and permits were not being given out. Now anyone can get a permit to spear fish legally. What is controversial is that there are limits to how many fish each fisher is permitted to catch. This is something I am hearing about and didn't have any input at all in the regulations other than to publicly say in the past that spear fishing should be legal as long as it's not done in marine protected areas. I don't think it's a bad thing though.

If you spend the time to search for spearfishing vids on youtube you will see many people shooting large fish in deeper waters. There are hardly any vids of people shooting small fish for many reasons but most of all because good spearfishers want to go for big "choice fish" to maximise their productivity. Why take 6 hours to catch 20 lbs of tiny fish when you could spend one hour and catch three fish over 10 lbs? Check the videos for yourself. The problem here is that many fishermen rely on old techniques and would rather shoot fish on the shelf in the very shallow waters. Spearfishing in deep water for large fish would mean them having to re tool and learn new techniques. I know of several spearfishermen here in Antigua that are shooting big fish (without tanks) in deeper waters. Two big fish and they are done!

Although fishermen don't like to admit it, we have a big problem with our inshore fishery and reefs. Over fishing with all the various methods, worst of all netting, has caused this in conjunction with the hurricanes of the 90s. The government Fisheries department have put a limit on the numbers of fish spearfishers can catch in an effort to try and protect the reef ecosystems. I think we will see a huge increase in the number of spearfishers overall and probably an increase in the overall poundage of fish harvested in this method. It's legal now and unemployed people can go out and find some fish for their family. This legalising of spearfishing will help small scale fishers but the commercial spearfishers will need to learn new techniques. Swimming down to 50+ feet to shoot fish isn't as hard as many people would think and larger fish out beyond the reef make the regulated limit plausible.

Another controversial thing is seasons for certain species. These were so controversial that many have been deferred until 2014. Antigua and Barbuda will join all the islands nearby to finally have closed seasons for lobster and conch. Amazing and a positive thing for the environment and for fishers. Giving these highly targeted species some time to reproduce will ultimately give fishers more a more sustainable and stable catch. These regulations were not just pulled out of a hat. Regulations from around the region and much further afield which have worked well for fishers were taken into consideration along with the feedback and input from fishers both here and in Barbuda.

There are many things that I am sure we will find in the regulations which we can debate upon, but the reality is that we needed some rules here and this is a good starting point to help protect the marine environment and the fishing industry for generations to come. After visiting the main Fisheries office in town I can tell you that officers there are ready and willing to help you understand the regs. At the end of the day we are in a much better place than we were 12 months ago.'

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