The problems with overfishing

Friday, March 11th, 2011

People often ask the RMP about the sustainability of fishing in Roatan’s waters. As with most coastal communities, fishing is more than a sport on Roatan, it’s a way of life. It is also the primary source of food and income for many. While Roatan has few large commercial fishing vessels, which are responsible for much of the world’s overfishing, our marine species are still in danger. Since the first people landed on Roatan, the sea has provided much of the food for island’s inhabitants. In 1960, the population of Roatan was around 10,000 people. Today it’s estimated to be as high as 75,000. As the population has increased, so too has the need for food. This has created stress on the surrounding marine ecosystems. In some areas, it’s nearly impossible to find a mature snapper or grouper. The species’ populations are further depleted when juveniles that haven’t yet reproduced are harvested. This is also true of conch and lobster which used to be in abundance on Roatan. Sadly, conch are now considered an endangered species in some waters and spiny lobsters populations are dwindling. It’s no longer possible for Roatan’s inhabitants to live off abunthe sea like they used to; there are just too many people and not enough fish.

Pelagic species are under pressure from a growing sports and charter fishing industry. In the past six months, Roatan has been host to four fishing tournaments. Only one, the 11th Roatan Fishing Tournament, was catch and release. For the first time this year, all billfish caught during the contest were released. This is a big step forward in conserving Roatan’s billfish as White and Blue Marlin populations worldwide are rapidly approaching extinction, with an 88% decline in numbers since 1960. Roatan’s other tournaments focused on wahoo, barracuda, and tuna. All species of tuna have undergone drastic declines in population due to the increase of fishing and some are threatened with extinction. The RMP encourages organizers of upcoming tournaments to enforce minimum size regulations and maximum catch limits to ensure a healthy future for Roatan’s waters.


Protecting the iguana

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

In 2004, the Roatan spiny-tailed iguana, Ctenosaura oedirhina, was listed as Critically Endangered under the IUCN Red List. In March 2010, C. oedirhina, along with 12 other iguana species native to Central America were included in the CITES Appendix II listing due to their recent appearance in the international pet trade. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international agreement between governments whose aim is to ensure that international trade in specimens of wild animals and plants does not threaten their survival. Species assigned to the Appendix I are those threatened with extinction, and trade in specimens of these species is permitted only in exceptional circumstances. Those listed in Appendix II includes species not necessarily threatened with extinction, but in which trade must be controlled. 

Currently there is a lack of information about the spiny-tailed iguana, including all aspects of the basic biology as well as population size, extent of occurrence, and threats. It is estimated that only 5,000 individuals remain in the wild on Roatan, with a proportion of these residing at Sherman Arch’s iguana and Marine Park in French Cay. Iguanas play an important role in the regeneration of forests, with a species in Costa Rica recognized as being among the main seed dispersers for some plants of a deciduous forest.

As you travel around Roatan, you will often notice kids walking down the streets carrying iguanas or ladies offering iguana stew. While hunting of iguana is prohibited by law, there are no real active means of protection or management at national or local level. For a species on the Critically Endangered List, very little is done to protect these animals. Threatened by over-exploitation for local consumption, habitat destruction, and collection for the international pet trade, why do we not do more to protect them? How can it be illegal to hunt these animals, yet serving iguanas on menus results in no reprisal? Sadly only once species disappear do we recognize the wrongs of our ways. To protect the iguana for future generations, our government must take active steps in protecting them.