ST JOHN’S, Antigua – Fishermen in Antigua & Barbuda are celebrating the exit of Chinese business interests, which they believe had threatened the sustainability of lobster in the twin island state.
President of the Antigua & Barbuda Fisherman’s Cooperative Len Mussington confirmed that a major Chinese seafood exporter has relocated to another Caribbean territory, believed to be Dominica.
“I don’t believe that the Chinese operation has succeeded. There is evidence now that it has failed,” Mussington said.
“It’s a blessing. Now we have a chance that we can save that particular part of the industry,” he added.
Local fishermen and environmentalists raised the alarm around a year ago when the Chinese exporter set up operations in Antigua and began making what they considered to be unsustainable demands.
Fishermen told OBSERVER Media they were being asked to provide around 10,000 pounds of lobster per week to satisfy the exporter’s demands.
One fisherman said he backed out when a representative for the exporter openly admitted that with such demands lobsters would soon be wiped out from the nation’s waters.
But Mussington said the exporters called it quits, after about a year of doing business here, when they realised they could not source as many lobsters as they required.
“Based on their forecast and expectations, it was not possible because it was not sustainable. The volumes they needed to make their project viable, we cannot produce that amount of lobster sustainably,” Mussington said.
“They didn’t have the choice. I hinted it from the onset, that if they were allowed to do this I think it would have totally wiped out the lobster market in another year. It was definitely not sustainable,” he added.
The head of the fisherman’s cooperative said with the exit of the Chinese and the recent introduction of new fisheries regulations, there is now hope the lobster stocks can recover sufficiently.
“In the absence of a regulated fishery it was possible (for the industry to be exploited). Having the regulations now come on stream, I can now see a glimmer of hope that we can have an industry next year and even ten years down the road, as long as we abide by what is prescribed in the regulations,” Mussington said.
“There are still threats nonetheless. It’s high demand, now that we have the tourist season, and they (fishermen) will tell you we are not seeing the yield we have seen in previous years,” he added.
The head of the fisherman’s cooperative said since the fisheries regulations came on stream on February 2, there are more provisions now available to better protect the industry.
“We have never reached the stage where we would implement closed season; now with the regulations there is a legal provision where we can do that,” Mussington said.