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.


Comparing Lobsters

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

It is common for tourists visiting Roatan to sample the local seafood delicacies, yet according to Seafood WATCH, a guide to smart seafood decisions, it is recommended that many of these species should be avoided.  In this publication, the Spiny Caribbean Lobsters, Grouper and Queen Conch harvested from the Caribbean are red listed (AVOID) while spiny lobsters harvested from the U.S. are recommended.  This difference is due to the U.S. lobster fishery’s strict guidelines, attentive management and extensive monitoring; programs that are sorely lacking in Honduras and the Caribbean.  Harvesting of lobsters without any discrimination of size, number, season or age is a common practice among fishermen in the Bay Islands, all of which are restricted guidelines under Honduran Law which are rarely enforced and never advertised.  All of these factors have led to a virtual crash in lobster populations, placing them on the brink of annihilation in the Bay Islands and cutting their range in half within the Caribbean.

        According to these laws, it is prohibited to harvest spiny lobsters with tails shorter than 14.5cm (5.5 inches). This minimum catch size has been established in order to allow all lobsters an opportunity to achieve sexual maturity and reproduce at least once.  This is an essential strategy as lobsters keep the reef clean.  Imagine a sustainable, well managed lobster fishery where a single harvested adult lobster represents one full meal plus 100s or 1000s of offspring.  Now compare that image to a plate with oversized portions of potatoes and veggies accompanied by 2 cell phone-sized lobster tails.  Which option is best for the restaurant, our fishermen, Honduran tourism, the lobster population and the health of the reef?  If our fishermen refuse to discriminate, then it is our responsibility to so for the future of Roatan.