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.


Finning Sharks in Honduran Waters

Monday, April 26th, 2010

For a prosperous future, Honduras needs to solidify its identity as a leader in the global community of environmentally conscious countries that rely on long-term management plans for ecotourism. Protecting sharks as a flagship species of healthy reefs in Honduras is one way to win international approval and keep the tourists coming here.

Shark finning is an unsustainable method of commercial fishing, non-traditional, wasteful, and it is here in Honduras. The process involves cutting the fins from live sharks while at sea and dumping the living body overboard to drown. This wastes approximately 97% of each animal while preserving storage space on the boat to continue fishing for shark fins. Additionally, by-catch on the long lines set to catch sharks commonly results in 70% morbidity of everything caught, turtles, fish and sharks. The value of shark fins to the Asian market has exploded, due largely to the expansion of trade and growth of the Chinese economy and population.

Honduras is now joining countries like the USA, South Africa, Brazil, India and Costa Rica in taking the steps to protect coastal sharks from being killed for their fins. The Fisheries Department (DIGEPESCA) is addressing this threat to the marine legacy of the Honduran people as it now is working to pass a law banning the finning of targeted coastal species. Regarding the nurse and whale sharks, in 1999 Honduras led the way as one of the first countries to protect this species.

Of note, the new law addresses sharks commonly caught in the coastal plains, leaving reef sharks and hammerhead species vulnerable. With the growth of consciousness in the Bay Islands of the value of healthy reefs, fish populations and indeed sharks, to tourism, we can continue to work towards a marine management plan that ensures Hondurans a bright future as a destination for the environmentally conscious traveler.


SEAGRASS – THE FORGOTTEN ECOSYSTEM

Friday, March 19th, 2010

To create the “turquoise water and white sand beach” image that is printed on every postcard and advertisement in the Caribbean, hotels and resorts continue to remove seagrass. In addition to extracting it from the water, hotels and businesses either bury washed up vegetation or place it in plastic bags bound for the dump. This is done to create a more aesthetically pleasing swimming environment with the belief that seagrasses harbor organisms harmful to swimmers. Seagrasses, however, are an economically and ecologically crucial marine habitat. The same seagrasses that are removed for being unsightly actually protect the white sand beaches and tropical waters that draw tourists to our island.

 People should know that waters lacking sediment and nutrients are better for coral reef health. Seagrasses reduce impacts of sewage and run-off on corals by absorbing much of the nutrients before they reach the reef zone. Seagrasses also reduce wave power, thereby consolidating sediments and minimising coastal erosion. A recent study in Mauritius found that beachside hotels that removed seagrass became the victims of their own innovation. In as little as a year, beaches had entirely disappeared due to coastal erosion. The fishing industry also benefits from the existence of seagrasses. They provide shelter for juvenile grouper, snapper, conch and lobster, and are an important food source for adult fish, helping to keep fishing sustainable.

 Coral reefs are designed to benefit from occasional natural disturbances such as hurricanes. But human degradation of Roatan’s reef and associated habitats (upon which tourism success depends) is reducing its ability to recover from such events. The potential result–ecological and economic collapse, perhaps as soon as the next major hurricane.

 While authorities fail to enforce environmental laws, developers need to take on more of a moral responsibility to ensure that their activities are not damaging the natural resources that bring people to the island.