Barbuda fishers appeal for alternate income sources ahead of Blue Halo fallout

A Barbuda fisherman with a catch of lobster on board his fishing vessel. (Photo courtesy ayanaelizabeth.com)

ST JOHN’S, Antigua – The Blue Halo initiative was signed into law last week but the marine conservation regulations are surrounded by controversy, as fisherfolk on the sister isle are appealing to the Waitt Institute and the Barbuda Council to find alternative income sources for them before the rules come into effect.

The Barbudans’ call has resonated with former president of the Fisherman’s Cooperative on mainland Antigua, Gerald Price, who has joined the call for alternatives.

“There should be, before this actual law comes into effect, an alternative method for how these fishermen will make a living,” Price said on Sunday’s Big Issues, adding that while fishermen in Antigua can seek other employment, like carpentry or hotel work, fishing is often the sole source of income for families in Barbuda.

“As we understand it, they are 100 per cent dependent on fishing and consequently when these regulations come into effect … it’s going to be bleak; very bleak.”

Price said while he approved of the new environmental guidelines, provisions must be made for the 43 active fishing vessels on the sister isle that will be left largely out of work.

“What are they going to do?” Price queried. “How are they going to make a living?”

The marine regulations, which were signed into law on August 12, will impose a two-year ban on fishing in the Codrington Lagoon, and a permanent ban over 33 per cent of waters within 5.5 kilometers of the Barbudan coastline. Fishing nets will also become illegal in 16 per cent of Barbuda’s coastal waters and anywhere within 20 meters of a coral reef.

Also included in the regulations is a ban on catching sea urchins and parrotfish.

According to the director of the Barbuda Research Complex, John Mussington, the programme will not only see resistance from the fishermen on the sister isle, but Barbudans on a whole. He called the movement counter-productive, citing that it ignored the cultural significance of areas like the Codrington Lagoon.

“When you treat stakeholders that way they understand the resources are theirs and they’re going to see it as someone from the outside trying to dictate … It has been poor engagement in terms of that stakeholder approach for the entire project.”

Mussington insisted that there should have been consultations between the council and local fishermen, and accused that body of shirking its responsibility to represent the people of Barbuda. “I have been waiting for a consultation between the administration, the stakeholders and their (Blue Halo) administration,” he argued. “That did not happen.”

Price said for the initiative to work the fishermen must be sold on the idea. He also noted that there is already a comprehensive conservation plan on the books that includes alternate provisions for fishermen. However, he said that this proposal has been ignored in favour of the Blue Halo initiative.

Meanwhile, Chair of Marine Science at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC, Dr Nancy Knowlton disagreed, citing that there was more than enough room made for all the parties involved to air their views.

(More in today’s Daily OBSERVER)