Caribbean Marine Park managers dive into management of fisheries

Representatives from fifteen Caribbean marine national parks re­cently met on Saba to focus on their role in contribut­ing to sustainable fisheries. Hosted by Saba Conserva­tion Foundation (SCF), this regional gathering included park managers from Saba, St. Eustatius, Bonaire, Brit­ish Virgin Islands, Turks and Caicos, Honduras and Be­lize. The park managers were joined by fishers, fishery-pol­icy advisors and data officers from the Caribbean Nether­lands, plus fishery scientists from the United States and Mexico, and regional non­governmental organisations and academic partners.

Participants in the peer-to-peer learning exchange on fishery management for Caribbean managers of Marine Protected Areas. (K.Wulf photo)

Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) are deemed impor­tant tools in fishery man­agement. Large, multi-use MPAs such as Saba Bank Na­tional Park, Cayos Cochinos Marine Natural Monument in Honduras and Port Hon­duras Marine Reserve in Be­lize, play a key role in ensur­ing sustainable local harvests of fish.

“In Belize, fishers are al­located specific fishing ar­eas, based on historical use, and they also have access to deep water fishing. MPA co-managers work on creating awareness of regulations and ensuring compliance to build sustainable fisheries for fu­ture generations,” Executive Director of Toledo Institute for Development and Envi­ronment Celia Mahung com­mented.

“We cannot do this on our own,” she said. “Fishers in turn help us by recording catch data, and a combina­tion of local knowledge and science is used in adaptive management for commer­cial species. MPA managers, leaders of fishing organiza­tions and international part­ners work with the Belize Fisheries Department to make sound decisions about sustainable levels of catch and to ensure the implemen­tation of best practices for wise fisheries management. Smaller marine-protected areas also have an impor­tant role to play in ensuring

healthy local reef-fish popu­lations through the imple­mentation of no-take fisher­ies regulations, such as in the Marine Parks in Saba, Statia and Bonaire.

These parks support valu­able tourism industries asso­ciated with diving and snor­kelling. They also contribute to sustainable fisheries by protecting large and highly reproductive fish within park boundaries, whose young then spill over into surround­ing fishing areas.

“Our marine parks bring about positive benefits for tourism and for fisheries, but as managers we face many challenges. Effective enforcement is needed to ensure that fish can grow and reproduce, and to ensure protection of the largest, most fertile fish and lobsters. In some parks pressure from recreational fishing can be high but goes unmonitored.

Meaningful communication with park users and dynamic education programmes for youth are essential,” Statia Marine Park Manager Jes­sica Berkel explained.

“By exchanging ideas and sharing expertise with other managers we can keep pace with advances in fishery man­agement in the region, such as new enforcement strate­gies and technology, and community programmes for research and monitoring. We can see how to better support monitoring and management actions to protect coral-reef ecosystems in our own parks,” SCF Parks Manager Kai Wulf commented about the meeting.

“We’ve gained new in­sights into fisheries biology, ecology and management strategies from top regional fisheries scientists. Visiting Mexican lobster specialist Eloy Sosa Cordero was im­pressed by the fishery data we’ve collected in Saba and was enthusiastic about the opportunity we have to apply these data to inform sustain­able fisheries.

“In other countries, fish­ers and MPA managers have participated in field visits to learn about sustainable fishing practices and share management experiences. Such exchanges, plus small-project funding, technical support and sharing of mon­itoring findings with fishers and communities are among the next steps we look for­ward to taking,” commented Wulf.

Making the most of the visitors on-island, SCF Ju­nior Rangers participated in a hands-on lobster session with Sosa Cordero. Some faced their fears and got up close with live lobsters. Oth­ers learned what it’s like to work as a marine biologist and lobster researcher. They all learned fun facts about the life cycle of lobsters and their distribution throughout the Caribbean.

Saba’s Junior Rangers learning about lobster with Eloy Sosa Cordero. (B.Janssens photo)

The meeting was an initia­tive of MPAConnect Net­work which is comprised of marine- protected areas in 10 Caribbean countries and territories, working in part­nership with Gulf and Carib­bean Fisheries Institute and the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Admin­istration’s Coral Reef Con­servation Programme, with funding from US National Fish and Wildlife Founda­tion.

Six regional MPAConnect learning exchanges have been held to date, each bring­ing together MPA managers from around the Caribbean to share experiences and dis­cuss best practices relating to priority management themes such as marine law enforce­ment, protected area financ­ing, coral reef monitoring, and MPA outreach and edu­cation programmes.

The Daily Herald.

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