Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The most important and threatened fish in our waters

Photo from www.365antigua.com

 Since my last blog about Cabinet's crazy decision to demand that fisheries officers, the coast guard and the police ignore the laws on spear fishing has gotten plenty of play i figured it would be a good time to blog something that Enjoy put out recently. This was the story i did for them about one of the most threatened and important fishes we have in Antigua which also happens to be the most common fish speared in Antigua.  

People often ask me how Antigua and Barbuda came to have so many beaches. Why is it that we have so many? Are we that unique? For several reasons, we are actually quite unique. We have a more rugged coastline than most of the nearby islands, but that alone didn’t give us more beaches than everyone else. In addition to some unique geography, we also have quite a bit of biology to thank too. I’ll explain: Our nation has one of the largest continental shelves in the Caribbean, and herbivore fish like parrot fish (locally known as chub fish) graze all over the shallow shelves chewing bits of coral to remove algae. Algae, a type of aquatic moss, are parrot fishes main diet, and it is this same algae which if allowed to grow freely, kills coral by taking it over. For a number of reasons, Antigua and Barbuda and the rest of the Caribbean are seeing much of its coral reefs disappear. On a healthy reef there are a great many fish all living in a symbiotic relationship with the coral and each other. They feed on the algae cleaning the reef, and as a result keep it healthy and alive. A healthy reef keeps growing expanding it’s mass and area along the sea bed. There are other relationships in the reef which mankind has disturbed, but one of the most important relationships is the one between the parrot fishes and the reef. A healthy large adult parrot fish living on a healthy reef, can make about 900 kilos (nearly 2000 lbs) of sand a year. This sand is excreted after the chewed up coral and algae mix has been consumed by the fish. This doesn’t harm the reef, but actually makes it healthier.

Parrot fish are one of the most popular fish eaten in Antigua and Barbuda, they can be found in many supermarkets as well as a few restaurants. Surgeon fish and Blue tang, known locally as Doctor Fish, are also popular food fish doing the same job as parrot fish. Populations of parrot fish have declined so much in my lifetime that i think some species have actually become extinct here. The huge Rainbow Parrot Fish known locally as the Macaw Chub may possibly still exist in Antigua, but I have been looking in shallow waters for them for years without a single sighting since the late 90s.They used to be very easily seen feeding on top of the reefs along the shores but have slowly disappeared. One of the main reasons for the decline in herbivore fish is simply over fishing and inadequate management of the reefs around the islands. Reef conservation and management isn’t as easy as one would think, but changing our eating habits can help in dealing with the problem. If you would like to help out the beaches and reefs, you should consider all of this when you see parrot fish on the menu or in the supermarkets. Select a more sustainably caught fish like Mahi Mahi or Wahoo for your dinner and know that the reef and beaches will be better off as a result.
please sign a petition to the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda which calls for the 2004 Fisheries Act to be signed so that we can get more environmental protection for our marine resoirces:

2 comments:

Nem said...

I have been reading your blog and it is really saddening me to see we are destroying one of the few things that our nation can actually be proud of.

But what can be done? You spread information but I feel like no one who can do anything about it is actually listening. Do you feel like this is a hopeless cause and that our seas are inevitably doomed, or is there something we can still do to save them?

eli fuller said...

Well, it's not easy to say, but sometimes i feel that it's a hopeless cause.