Lester Gittens, assistant fisheries officer at the Department of Marine Resources, began a project this summer that is aimed at protecting our country’s spiny lobster fishery. Gittens adopted the project as a PhD student at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va.
The spiny lobster is considered the most important fishery in The Bahamas because it provides employment for thousands of people, and roughly brings in between $50 million to $95 million in foreign exchange every year.
There are three main objectives for the project.
The first objective, Gittens said, is to determine the effects that condos – commonly referred to as casitas – have on lobster biology. The next objective is to look at the sustainability of the fishery in relation to condos. Finally, Gittens said that they will also investigate the effects of casitas compared to fishing traps and natural shelters on the lobster’s mortality and growth as well as their susceptibility to diseases.
Because lobsters are known to be gregarious and highly sociable, they tend to aggregate under casitas in very large numbers. Gittens said they are curious about the effects on lobsters when they gather in such high densities in one location. He questioned whether it slows or increases their growth or if high densities lead to higher disease rates.
Nevertheless, Gittens is optimistic about the impending results.
“We are examining all of these different aspects in relation to the first objective, and of course we have to compare it to traps, alternative fishing methods in The Bahamas, and we have to compare it to lobsters in natural areas to see whether what is found in casitas is different from what one would normally expect,” Gittens explained.
Planning for the project began in September of 2011 throughout The Bahamas, while the field component started in late July of 2012. On Abaco, spiny lobsters will be caught and sampled whereas they will only be sampled on the remaining islands.
With a timeline of three years for the project, two and a half years will be designated for data collection. The project will be monitored on a quarterly basis with visits to casitas and natural areas in Abaco every three to four months.
This point brought Gittens to another objective: evaluating the size of lobsters in casitas versus traps and natural areas. A key part of fisheries management is protecting juvenile lobsters, and they’ve found that traps are better at rejecting juveniles than casitas.
Our fishing methods also came under consideration for this particular project. Gittens said that most fishermen use a hook to hold the lobster, and sometimes the hook pierces its exo-skeleton. So far, there have been no studies to determine if the lobster survives. Some fishermen only hook the abdomen or tail, which Gittens conceded may be less fatal.
For the most part, casitas are located in the Great Bahama Bank and Little Bahama Bank, but are unmanaged. Presently, it is unknown how many casitas exist and where they are located. Gittens said that the fishing ground is vast – easily covering 100,000 square kilometers of fishing grounds. One option is to utilize remote sensing with a satellite in outer space that would give an estimate of how many casitas there are and their whereabouts.
Although there are variations in the materials used for casitas, they chose the most popular six by four structure with corrugated metal on plywood to elevate it off the sea floor.
“We used the same materials to make the results comparable,” Gittens said. “In Marsh Harbour and Sandy Point, there are six casitas in each location and ten traps at each site.”
The casitas and traps are marked “Fisheries Research” in large, white lettering, so that fishermen are aware that the equipment belongs to the Dept. of Marine Resources. Gittens said that fishermen complain that others take lobsters from their casitas, so they wanted to minimize that as much as possible. They also wanted the public to know that they must not tamper with the casitas and traps.
Once, the project is completed, Gittens said that the Department of Marine Resources and Old Dominion University will make the information available for those who can best use it.
“The project is geared toward ensuring that the lobster fishery is sustainable and well managed,” Gittens concluded.