According to the Department of Marine Resources and local commercial fishermen, the 2013 crawfish season has been disappointing with some seeing as much as a fifty percent reduction based on last year’s opening.
Assistant Fisheries Superintendent Wayne Cornish says while they don’t have an analysis of the crawfish season thus far as yet, he noted that from what he has heard and seen from fishermen in the Grand Cay area that there were very low returns during the first few weeks but they have since seen a slight increase in recent weeks.
“I know of fishermen from Grand Cay who travelled as much as eighteen miles and returned with just twenty pounds of crawfish but more recently they have brought in sixty pounds or more,” Mr. Cornish said.
He indicated that while crawfishing out of season and the taking of undersized crawfish may have had an impact on the low numbers the water temperatures were also a factor in his opinion.
“We have had a number of reports of crawfish with tar spots,” he said. Tar spots are black spots on the underside of the crawfish that indicate they are in the early stages of spawning. This tar spot contains thousands of sperm. The female lobster lays the eggs and holds them on her body, under her tail for two to three weeks, until they are ready to hatch.
Crawfish breed and spawn when the ocean is warm during the spring and summer; however, Mr. Cornish noted that the water was cooler than normal well into June this year and he believes it may have delayed the spawning process because crawfish don’t spawn in traps known as ‘condos’.
A local fisherman adds that there have been two hurricanes go up the entire Bahamas in the last two years which has damaged or killed off a number of juvenile crawfish. “We usually see lower numbers of crawfish after a major hurricane and we’ve had two in the last two years and it usually takes two to three years for the numbers to come back,” he said.
The fisherman said that last year was down from previous years and “this year we are getting about fifty percent less than last year.” He said he believes it will be hard for fisherman for the next two years as they wait for crawfish stock to replenish.
Regarding the crawfishing out of season Mr. Cornish said that the fishermen need to get together to help stop it from happening.
“When you know someone who is selling fresh crawfish out of season you need to think about it, he’s getting that from your (fisherman’s) condo. And while he’s at it he is also taking the undersized crawfish and it is your bottom line that will be affected,” he said.
The local fisherman added that he would like to see a ban on all sales of crawfish while the season is closed making it less appealing for those who crawfish out of season. “Take away the money in it and you will see it stop.” He said.
Adrian LaRoda, President of Bahamas Commercial Fishers Alliance, said that the season “has been very slow, there are many boats that have not made it out for the second trip of the season.”
“The crawfish season opened on the first of August and most operations would have been preparing for that time to make the first trip out, conventionally that trip would last probably fourteen days as it is expected that the yield would be good,” he said.
However Mr. LaRoda said most boats stayed out for twenty days as the yield in most areas particularly the Southern, Southwestern and Northwestern Bahamas was not as expected for the beginning of the season.
“There could be a number of factors for the drop in crawfish yield, but the primary reason is unregulated and illegal fishing,” he said.
Mr. LaRoda added that the problem has been compounded because “illegal, unregulated and unsustainable (IUU) fishing has caused many operators to begin to work in areas that were traditionally fished by other fishermen, thus creating conflicts.”
According to Mr. LaRoda “poachers have become more emboldened by the lack of Royal Bahamas Defense Force patrols, as they are now working further north.”
He said one of the problems that Abaco fishermen face is the tourist trade as many of the pleasure craft operators are not abiding by catch regulations and there are many charter tour operators and sport fishers that come to the Abaco’s to fish commercially.
“The major plank in our own enforcement is for the government to act decisively when it comes to dealing with IUU fishing and it should be part of the government’s platform on trade talks,” he said.
Mr. LaRoda said “Instead of turning a blind eye to the problems, they should be the impetus for trade and diplomatic negotiations; meaning when we agree to something with the any foreign state we should insist that they enforce penalties on their nationals that break our fisheries laws.”