Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Online campaign on fisheries matters produces fantastic results.

As many readers of my blogs know, the 2006 Fisheries Act has been sitting languishing with the Minister of Fisheries, waiting for him to sign off on the accompanying regulations. While awaiting this evasive signature, unsustainable fishing methods continue to prevail in our marine environment. The total lack of marine management remains incredibly disappointing. Time and time again highly educated and knowledgeable fisheries officers have been quoted as saying "our hands are tied until we have signed regulations". The call to have these regulations signed has come from far and wide within the community mainly because of the situation we are seeing out on the water, but also because the document in questions and it's regulations were developed after consultations with fishers, their associations, environmental groups and other stakeholders. We were all just waiting for the Fisheries Minister's signature. The Antigua Conservations Society decided that all of these stakeholders had done enough complaining about the situation without getting a result. We had all read enough articles in Caribarena.com and in the Daily Observer about the situation and we had all heard stakeholders on the radio being interviewed. The island was fed up with wrongs not being made right with lobster fishing, with parrot fish netting, with conch fishing, and with all the other types of uncontrolled over fishing. We felt that there was no doubt that we needed to take it all to the next level. Our first step was starting a simple online campaign with change.org which attempted to collect signatures petitioning the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda to get involved. It "went viral" here in Antigua and the media seemed to love the concept and more and more "buzz" only helped the cause. Within a short time we reached 2000 signatures to Prime Minister, Baldwin Spencer begging him to get involved in order to save our reefs and marine eco systems.
It wasn't long before we saw results. Minister Hilson Baptiste who is minister of Environment, Minister of Fisheries, Minister of Lands, Housing and Agriculture was interviewed saying that he was doing something about the situation and would in fact sign the Fisheries Act's Regulations, but first he was instructing his Chief Fisheries Officer to organize consultations on the regulations once again. Although there was some disappointment due to the fact that these consultations had happened before, it was action nonetheless. As it turned out, the consultations initiated by the Minister went very well. The Antigua Conservation Society was represented at the meetings by Fran Fuller, who had at one time represented the country and the Minister at climate change conferences around the world while working within the Ministry of Environment. Fran reported that the consultations went very well, and she felt that the Fisheries did a very good job of facilitating this fresh round of talks.
There were several sessions including sessions in Barbuda, and stakeholders from both across both islands offered input which as it turns out only made the regulations stronger. The new contributions from stakeholders only served to confirm that stronger protection measures are indeed needed and welcomed by a wide cross section of the community. Yesterday I spoke with Chief Fisheries officer, Cheryl Appleton, who confirmed what Fran has said about these consultations. She said it was fishermen who called for stronger regulations than the ones which had been sitting unsigned on the Minister's desk, and I got the feeling that she was very enthusiastic about the change that has happened. According to Mrs. Appleton, The Minister is eager to sign off on the new regulations just as he said he would in the recent interview. She says that he will have it all delivered to him by the end of this week. This is fantastic news and goes to show that we can make a difference here on this little island with just a little effort. The Antigua Conservation Society, our supporters, and all the 2300 people who signed the petition in the hope of getting the Fisheries Regulations have all made a difference, and we should be happy that the Minister is moving in the right direction. It looks like step one of our campaign may have been was all that was needed for now. It remains to be seen if the regulations will come into effect as promised and the ACS will remain vigilant, but for now the Minister seems to be doing the right thing and many of us feel good about the momentum that is pushing this important issue forward.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

tracking lionfish in antigua

Several years ago I blogged that the lionfish were probably here already (read here) and there is now no doubt that they were. Within two years we are getting reports from around the island of Antigua of lionfish sightings. In order to protect our fishery and our important dive and snorkeling sites we need to be very proactive on how we track them and how we kill them. There was a great article in today's Daily Observer about the lionfish and more importantly about protecting our marine resources overall. Click here for that article. I have decided to try and keep track of sightings using Google Maps. What I plan to do is to invite any dive or snorekling operator as well as fishermen and other parties that would likely see lionfish regularly to sign up as users on a Map that i have created. They then can input lionfish sightings on the map with a date and a short explanation saying if they left the fish in the water or killed it. Anyone who isn't signed up with this map can still view it and can call me on +1 268 725 7263 if they have seen a lionfish. I will add the sighting and a date to the map. I think this is the first good step in getting a good idea on what's going on. Of course there is much more that can be done, but this is a good tool to keep track of the populations of lionfish. Remember these fish can be dangerous if not handled correctly. Make sure you do your research before you attempt to kill one. If you need more info please contact me on eliantigua@gmail.com Here is the map:
View Lionfish Tracking Antigua & Barbuda in a larger map

Monday, July 16, 2012

18 million US dollars of Government Dept in exchange for what coastal protection??

This photo below shows some of the legally designated Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that Antigua and Barbuda currently has. Some of them were set up in the early 70s and up to now I don't know of any area within these huge expanses of "prtotected" waters that is being actively managed in any way. We see so many types of invasive non sustainable fishing methods daily within these MPAs and whenever our politicians speak of environmental protection I just laugh. Recently tears came to my eyes when I heard that our government was boasting about wiping off 18 million dollars of debt in some sort of environmental trade with Brazil. The Minister responsible says that Brazil is forgiving the debt because he and his government have promised to protect the marine coastline. There are more questions than answers with this one to be honest.

Here is a excerpt taken from The Antigua Observer:

Baptiste told the CARDI consultation that he was able to further reduce the debt to $18 million after talks in Rio in June with that country’s finance minister, Guido Mantega.
“We were introduced to a climate change organisation (The Nature Conservancy) and we are getting involved in a debt for climate adaptation swap,” Minister Baptiste said.
“We will get the climate change people to pay off the $18 million for us while we get vigorously involved in coastal zone management in Antigua & Barbuda.”
Read more here. As you can see, it's not very specific to be honest. Caribarena.com wrote another piece today questioning what exactly this all meant:

However, when Caribarena.com contacted Senior Environment Officer Ruleta Camacho and her Chief Environment Officer Diann Black-Layne, neither could share any information on the $18 million initiative.

According to Wendy Tittle, Press Secretary for Minister Baptiste, too many details cannot be divulged about the proposed initiative at this time, as the ministry is “still waiting on some documents.”

My problem with all of this talk is that as the photo above shows, we already have huge areas of coastline in our country which is protected under law and on paper but not actually in practice. I hope that the Brazilian tax payers and The Nature Conservancy are not as complacent as we are here in Antigua and Barbuda. I hope they actually are going to make sure that some sort of visible marine protection goes on here. We don't have any marine patrols at all here in Antigua for all of the area that sits in Marine Protected Areas and without the 2006 Fisheries Act having any signed regulations, the "fishing free for all" continues. The marine environment is under more strain than it has ever been under and while our government ministers slap themselves on the back our our marine resources dwindle and become extinct. Protect the Marine Protected Areas and stop talking!!!!!!!!!!