Over the past few weeks there have been repeated stories about the depletion of our lobster stock and other fish.
Most people are quite comfortable in blaming it on the Chinese immigrants, who are voraciously buying up lobsters to export, and now even are buying the boats to supply fishermen with more horsepower to get to the prime lobster areas.
But while it’s easy to blame immigrants, that isn’t the real problem and it won’t provide any solution. The real problem is getting leaders to understand the root of the problem, and then do something about it. You can’t hold someone responsible for a violation that doesn’t exist in law.
In a meeting held among six Caribbean islands concerned about managing ocean resources last June, the responsible ministers from St Lucia, Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, Grenada, St Kitts & Nevis and St Vincent & the Grenadines met to ostensibly discuss sustainable use of marine resources.
But instead of thoughtfully examining how the words ‘sustainable’ and ‘management’ translate into policy, they got defensive about their countries’ right to call the shots without interference from international organisations like Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Federation.
As expressed by the ministers, including our own Hilson Baptiste, the islands maintain that given their tiny land masses, the vast majority of natural resources available to them for food is contained in the huge marine spaces surrounding them, and that they have a right to harvest and utilise these resources in a “controlled, well-managed and sustainable way.”
Some islands have been working at designing programmes and legislation to provide that sustainable way. Others, such as Antigua & Barbuda, talk a big game, but when it comes to passing and signing legislation into law, there is little action.
In fact, legislation was crafted here, but has been languishing in limbo as vested interests in fishing and import/export businesses complain about certain sections they don’t like and nobody wants to make a decision.
Everyone is going to have something they don’t like about a piece of legislation. But you get the act passed and signed into law. Then you see how it works and make alterations as you go along.
Meanwhile, the chief fisheries officer and her deputy are busy finding ways to blame everyone else except the ministers and themselves for the shortage of lobsters we are now experiencing. They blame the hotels for not paying top prices and issuing cheques to fishermen quickly; they blame the fishermen for exploiting the situation by selling to the highest bidder.
They say they would love to have a closed lobster season, but because of the lack of legislation, “their hands are tied.”
Then the senior fisheries officer issues a report saying there is no shortage of lobsters, with his main reason being that our lobster exports are much less than they used to be (so of course there should be more here). This marine biologist doesn’t talk about scientific studies of lobster breeding areas or surveys of catch … and somehow it doesn’t occur to him that the exports may be down because there aren’t as many lobsters there to catch.
It’s almost like they were told to find excuses and distractions to turn people’s focus away from the Chinese and their destructive practices – because we all know how close this government is to Chinese interests.
There are a few who persist in trying to make people see the truth about the state of marine health around Antigua & Barbuda, like Eli Fuller and John Mussington. But they have been calling out for changes for years; and even when they catch violators of what little effective laws we have, the police and Coast Guard won’t take action.
So by right, they are getting frustrated. Lately, Fuller has been asking whether those who believe, like him, should step up the game by mounting a public protest of some kind. This is a natural response when everything else you try is unheeded, ridiculed, or explained away by bad science.
When is someone going to lead Antigua & Barbuda away from a certain future of depleted marine resources and into effective actions, supported by all for the common good of present and future generations? With the players we see in charge of the process, the answer is probably not any time soon.