Although The Bahamas has a sizeable lobster industry, the country must prove that the industry can satisfy the demands for local consumption as well as for foreign or trade consumption.
It was a statement that was emphasized by Edison Deleveaux, deputy director of the Department of Marine Resources, at two meetings held for fishermen in Fox Town and Sandy Point on July 19 and July 20, respectively. He added that we must ensure that our resources are stable, and that we must control illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. In a nutshell, everything concerning the lobster fishery must be compliant with all Bahamian laws.
“My feeling is this – the industry is yours,” Deleveaux reasoned. “You ought to safeguard your livelihood [because] each one of you has a stake in this. We are talking about one stock, and once that stock is gone there’s no guarantee that it is going to come back.
“Follow the law and follow common sense,” Deleveaux warned.
Additionally, with The Bahamas as the largest exporter of spiny lobster in the region, all eyes are on us in this multi-billion dollar industry. Fortunately, research has indicated that our resources are healthy and stable, but with the constant threat of poachers and foreign fishermen in our waters, we cannot rest easy.
Even with the assistance of the United States government with regard to the prosecution of poachers, tackling this issue is a mammoth task for all involved.
“It depends on each one of us to keep the industry healthy, so you can get the maximum benefit from your efforts,” Deleveaux admonished. “Markets are becoming more rigid, and the world is saying that 70 percent of all wild caught species are fished to capacity or overfished. They are now taking steps to control that, so if you wish to enter certain markets to get top dollar for your product, you have to prove that you are managing and sustaining your stocks.”
The second presenter was Mia Isaacs, president of the Bahamas Marine Exporters Association (BMEA). She is also affiliated with J & J Seafood and Heritage Seafood. Isaacs spoke concerning BMEA on what they have accomplished in the industry, and on the impact and importance of what they are doing.
The final speaker was Glen Pritchard of Tropic Seafood, and vice president of BMEA. He spoke in depth on the requirements for the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), which is globally recognized as the leader in sustainable ecolabeling. Pritchard said that only ten percent of the lobster fishery is used locally while ninety percent of our production is exported. This means we must meet world standards.
For instance, in the European market, MSC-certified products are preferred or another certified sustainable fishery product. He added that The Bahamas is ranked in the top four spiny-lobster producing countries in the world, and so far, only two lobster fisheries in the entire world have achieved MSC certification – one in Australia and the other in California.
“Obtaining MSC certification will propel our fishery to the top,” Pritchard assured.
Meanwhile, there are some Bahamian exporters who have chosen not to support MSC certification. Nevertheless, the Bahamian Lobster Fishery is expected to be presented for MSC assessment in December 2012.
In the months leading up to the assessment, there are a few more requirements to fulfill before full MSC assessment is achieved. First, a spiny lobster group must be formed, then management must set rules and regulations, and finally, we must combat illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing. The benefits to Bahamian fishermen are access to markets, sustained and improved incomes, and better management of the fishery and an enhanced marine environment.