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Issues in the management of large pelagic fisheries in CARICOM countries

Bisessar Chakalall and Kevern Cochrane

Rationale for the project

The fisheries sector makes an important contribution to the economies of Caribbean Community (CARICOM) countries, mainly through the supply of fish as a part of food supply, an employment source, an income generator and a foreign currency earner. The crucial importance of the fisheries sector in satisfying food demand lies in the fact that most consumers in CARICOM countries are traditionally fish eaters, with an annual per capita demand that sometimes exceeds double the world average. Many of the fisheries in this region involve small-scale and rural fishers and often represent their only possible source of income, thus reinforcing the importance of the sector to food security. Employment and income are generated in the fisheries sector through commercial fishing, recreational fishing and tourism.

With this heavy dependence by CARICOM countries on fishing, most coastal resources are fully or overexploited (especially those of higher commercial value), while the demand for fish products continues to grow. As a result, both fishers and governments have turned their attention to the stocks of large pelagic fish, several of which have been considered underexploited. Fisheries based on these stocks have expanded considerably in recent years in several states of the Western Central Atlantic Fishery Commission (WECAFC). In Grenada by the mid-1990s, for example, the fishery had grown since its inception in the early 1980s to 110 small longliners fishing one-day trips, plus seven longliners capable of trips of a few days duration (Mahon, 1996a). In Saint Lucia, 45 new vessels were introduced into the fishery during 1989-1992, with heavy emphasis on fishing for large pelagic species. In Barbados, 82 vessels with ice-holds, able to stay at sea for 7-14 days, were introduced into the fleet during 1979-1989. Subsequently, the fleet increased by 30 mid-size longliners, and the country is committed to further expansion if economically viable. Other countries, such as Guyana and Suriname, which do not yet have well-developed fisheries for large pelagics, have expressed interest in developing them. These trends are paralleled in non-CARICOM countries of the Caribbean region as well (e.g. Delaney, 2000).

If the stocks of these very mobile, large pelagic species are not to suffer the same overexploitation as the coastal stocks and fisheries, with the resulting negative impact on fishers and the consumers dependent upon them, there is an urgent need for regional planning and management of their sustainable utilization. The primary goal of this project was to enable the governments concerned to do this rapidly and effectively in the context of the global fisheries environment.


International agreements - a context for the management of large pelagic fisheries

Management of the large pelagic fisheries of interest to CARICOM countries should be consistent with binding and non-binding international agreements, particularly the:

The implications of these agreements for states are discussed in the next chapter, and much of this publication examines the options available to CARICOM countries within the framework of the agreements.

The project

Recognizing both the potential and the problems associated with the expansion of large pelagic fisheries in the region, the Governments of Barbados, Grenada, Saint Lucia and Suriname approached FAO. They requested assistance in an examination of the development potential for increasing fisheries production for large pelagic species in the Caribbean, including consideration of regional mechanisms for harmonizing utilization of these transboundary stocks. A draft proposal was circulated among all the states of CARICOM. The Community received endorsements of the proposal and requests to participate on a regional basis from the Governments of Antigua and Barbuda, and Trinidad and Tobago, as well as from the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) on behalf of six of its member states (which are also members of CARICOM).

At the Ninth Session of WECAFC in September 1999, expansion of large pelagic fisheries was one of the two priority areas identified under WECAFC’s Fisheries Management Strategy for the region.

As a result, FAO approved the Technical Cooperation Programme (TCP) project TCP/RLA/0070, Preparation for expansion of domestic fisheries for large pelagic species by CARICOM countries. The project began in early 2001 with the overall objective of assisting CARICOM states in sustainably developing their large pelagic fisheries. It was undertaken in cooperation with WECAFC, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), OECS and the CARICOM Fisheries Resource Assessment and Management Programme (CFRAMP). The project was able to build upon the efforts of and results achieved by CFRAMP, thereby providing a good basis from which the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) could address its top priority area, the management of shared large pelagic resources.

The activities carried out during the project comprised the following:

The outputs expected of the project have been achieved and are reported upon in this publication:

The project ended in March 2003. Its successful completion is considered to have left participating countries in a strong position to move forward independently of FAO in the development of their fisheries for large pelagics.

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