Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Will the Chinese wipe out Antigua and Barbuda's lobster?

Over the past month there has been considerable media attention on the subject of certain Chinese businessmen orchestrating a massive monthly purchase and export of spiny lobster. (Click here if you want to know more about spiny lobster)
In a nutshell, these businessmen are providing boats, scuba gear and fishing equipment to fishermen here in Antigua and Barbuda in exchange to the exclusive rights to purchase this lobster from them at an elevated price than the current market price. The cost of the equipment is slowly subtracted from the payments so essentially the whole agreement is a sort of financing agreement. The deal for fishermen is irresistible.

The first big complaint in the media came from the hotel sector which became enraged when they couldn't get their usual supply of lobster. The Chinese were paying more for lobster and taking any amount supplied, so there was none being offered to the hotels. They were upset.

The second complaint came from one of the oldest lobster wholesalers here who for decades has been the biggest buyer and seller of lobster. He complained that he couldn't afford to pay as much as the Chinese for the lobster. His supply dried up and he was upset. 

The third complaint came from supermarkets and other local sources of consumption who could no longer get lobster to buy. For the first time since it opened Epicurean Supermarket has an empty lobster tank.

Recently I have heard complains against the businesses that are selling to fishermen who are being financed by the Chinese lobster mafia. They feel that it's wrong for some reason for local business to accept money loaned to fishermen from these Chinese lobster men. 

Then with all the media outcry and the calls coming in to the radio stations I started to hear more and more people complaining about the "Chinese and dem tekking all d lobster and nar left none for ahwee". Passions have run high and have even bordered on being viewed as xenophobic in some of the arguments. I say that because the focus seems to be on the notion that the Chinese are doing something wrong. All the comments are focused on the Chinese and not at all on the fisheries policy that has permitted non national entrepreneurs to capitalize on the fishery. It's not just Chinese either. One of the biggest seafood merchants in Antigua is a Syrian and most of the commercial fishing for parrot fish and lobster is being done these days by fishermen from Dominica and the Dominican Republic. Lets not even talk about the tons of fish that is caught in our waters by the French from Guadeloupe. Sustainable fishing has never been visible on the ground or in the water.

This concern that our nation's lobster stock being decimated by Chinese interests could be dealt with fairly easily I think. Once again it boils down to passing of the Fisheries Act and it's regulations and then enforcing them. This is a problem that has again and again been blamed for most of the marine conservation issues. Antigua & Barbuda are some of the only islands in the Caribbean that do not have a carefully managed closed season. Also, there doesn't seem to be any limits on catch or on export quantity. Essentially with enough money and resources, the Chinese could legally wipe out all of Antigua and Barbuda's lobster while using licensed fishermen who they finance/contract. They could do the same thing for almost all of our seafood to be honest. Just today my sister came across a group of Chinese men fishing along the Shell Beach main road. They had buckets of tiny Queen Conch (an endangered species) as well as buckets of starfish. This large group of Chinese are here working on the airport expansion and knowing that there is no fisheries management they play off their ignorance of the law and do as they like. That could be another blog entry i guess.

The issue at hand is the decimation of our lobster stock by local fishermen for Chinese consumption, and as I mentioned to fix it, our Fisheries Minster and his Chief Fisheries Officer need to work together in the interest of all of the citizens of the nation and get those regulations off the desk and into law. The interesting thing is that we even with all the media attenton and public interest we have not heard anything officially from them. This is not a problem with the Chinese, but rather a problem with the management of our fishery and the way that our fishermen utilize it. Currently the way seafood is harvested here is not sustainable, and if nothing is done there is no doubt in my mind that the only lobster my son will ever see will be in photos of them that I took before he was born.

I think it's time for action because writing and speaking about this doesn't seem to make any difference to the people making the decisions. I think we need to somehow be a bit louder. Does anyone else think it's time for an actual protest demonstration?

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1 comment:

robby breadner said...

great piece.