The Department of Marine Resources (DMR) yesterday refuted a suggestion made by a Forbes contributing writer, whose article suggested that the Bahamian spiny lobster fishery has been “set back years” because of the devastation caused by Hurricane Dorian on Abaco and Grand Bahama.
Forbes’ contributing environmental writer Daphne Ewing-Chow said in her article, “The Bahamas’ $75 million spiny lobster fishery has been set back years in the wake of Hurricane Dorian.” The article, published on October 31 in Forbes.com, claimed that “the vital economic sector, which employs more than 9,000 Bahamians, will take years to rebuild from the category-5 hurricane”.
The article contends that Grand Bahama and Abaco produced “more than a third of all spiny lobster catches in The Bahamas”.
However, Acting Assistant Director at the Department of Marine Resources Gregory Bethel yesterday explained that the majority of the spiny lobster fishers remain unaffected by Dorian and have been on the water since the season opened August 1.
Information provided by the DMR reveals that in 2018 Abaco and Grand Bahama represented a little more than one quarter of spiny lobster landings and in 2017 the two islands represented one quarter.
The DMR numbers show that since 2016, total spiny lobster landings for The Bahamas have declined by 1.5 million pounds. Values have declined from about $95 million in 2016 to $72 million in 2018.
“While the fisheries sectors in both Abaco and Grand Bahama have been adversely impacted, it has not been to the extent of the ‘huge loss to the spiny lobster fishery’ as implied by the article,” Bethel said.
“Please note the major islands of New Providence, Eleuthera inclusive of Spanish Wells, Long Island, Andros and the remaining southern islands where commercial fishing is prevalent, remains untouched.
“In fact, the majority of fishing for spiny lobster takes place on the Great Bahama Bank, which is well out of the impacted zone and remains fertile grounds for our fishers. Damage assessments of the Little Bahama Bank are continuing.”
Bethel added that fishers in both north and south Abaco, as well as in West Grand Bahama, have resumed fishing. He added that Spanish Wells is considered the fishing capital of The Bahamas, and that island was unaffected by Dorian.
“While it is a fact that the government has not issued a statement speaking specifically to the impact of Dorian on the marine resources sector, just last week the prime minister indicated some relief that would be coming to our fishers,” he said.
“Our Department of Marine Resources has conducted several assessment visits to Abaco and Grand Bahama, some of which included our international agency partners which include the Food and Agriculture Organization.
“While we suspect that the marine habitats may have been adversely impacted, damage assessments continue and therefore the article’s conclusion about the long-term sustainability of the sector are premature.”
In her article, Ewing-Chow also contends that there could be concerns about bringing the country’s industry back up to international standards.
“Given that The Bahamas is a key exporter of the spiny lobster, rebuilding the industry will require bringing the processors and buying stations up to international export standards,” she said.
But Bethel explained that Ewing-Chow’s “concern about the standards of exported product may be misplaced”.
“All marine products exported from The Bahamas meet international quality assurance standards,” he said.
“In fact, The Bahamas ranks among world leaders in quality assurance compliance as our current good standing with HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) confirms.”
He added: “Processing facilities in New Providence are currently obtaining product from North Abaco at this time. We also understand that efforts are currently underway to restore the fish holding facility located in Dundas Town. The same applies for Grand Bahama, where the impact of Dorian on the sector was felt mainly in East Grand Bahama inclusive of Sweetings Cay.”
Bethel explained that the incomplete sourcing of information in regards to articles such as the Forbes article can have negative implications for the spiny lobster industry, which he said “has been a highly productive and important sector for our country”.
“Our hope is to come back to the public very soon to update on the concrete measures being taken to bring the sector to full strength,” he said.