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.
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.
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.