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Jun 27, 2008

Exchange programme teaches fishermen to conserve

Story PictureIt’s the month of Lobster fests with Placencia, Caye Caulker and San Pedro each hosting its own celebration of seafood. But beyond the fun on the beach, the question of how we manage our valuable marine resources is never far from the minds of coastal dwelling Belizeans. And while much of the news we receive and report suggests that the culture is one of decline, there are some signs that with enlightened management our seas can survive and prosper. Tonight we present a report which chronicles an exchange programme between Belizean and Mexican fishers and their counterparts in the Eastern Caribbean. The conclusion is that protected areas like those in Belize, can serve as a model for the region. It’s called A Fisher’s Journey.

Dalston Samuels, Fisher, Antigua & Barbuda
“I was thinking that the cutting back of fish and lobster world like it’s the last day so this is what’s gonna happen. It was take all you can get whenever you can get. It was a quest for survival.”

“My name is Dalston Samuels and I’m a fisherman from Antigua. My father was a fisherman. I started fishing since I was about thirteen. Fishing is my life and I also want my son to come and do that. I want to be able to work along side him and watch him take in in abundance.”

The problems of declining fisheries facing Antigua and Barbuda are shared by fishers throughout the Caribbean. In certain areas of Belize and Mexico, however, fishers—in collaboration with scientists, government officials and others—have made remarkable progress in reviving their fisheries and conserving their way of life.

In May 2007 Dalston Samuels, accompanied by scientists and by fishers from Venezuela and Antigua and Barbuda journeyed to Belize and Mexico to learn first hand from the experience of these fishers.

Dalston Samuels
“It was very, very, very rewarding, very educational and it helped to change my way of thinking when it comes to fishing. The first dive we did was free dive.”

The fishers were all very excited about what they witnessed.

Vernon Griffith, Fisher, Antigua & Barbuda
“Best dive I ever had in my life. If one fisherman could take in one quarter of this fish that I see, they don’t have to fish for the rest of the year.”

Dalston Samuels
“I saw Nassau, Grouper, Black Grouper, Snappers, French Angel, Barracudas, Murray Eel, Nurse Shark, and you name it.”

Vernon Griffith
“I saw a lot of fish.”

Dalston Samuels
“They were all there. I wish we could have something like this, even a fraction of this in Antigua”

They learned how no take zones and marine protected areas can actually increase the catch.

They also saw how fishers there supplement their income from fishing by working as marine guards and eco-tourism guides. They discovered how these fishers generate even more income as fly fishing guides.

Dalston Samuels
“There is this guy, Eloy, he lives in Monkey River. He’s well known down in that part and I was told that he was one of the best for fly fishing, he’s an expert. I would like for in the not very far future, for him to be brought to the shores of Antigua and Barbuda to show the fishermen how to do fly fishing because I want to believe that the way things are going that we might be asked not to take from certain areas.”

They visited fishing cooperatives.

Dalston Samuels
“The two senior fishermen kind of piloted us through the laws and the by-laws of the cooperative. They gave us a tour of the facilities. Everything was really processed right. Everything was together.”

They also visited lobster ranches and learned about sustainable fishing techniques, including the use of special traps and casitas.

Dalston Samuels
“In the casitas the divers would go with the scoop net and take them out and separate the juvenile ones.”

They witnessed the majesty of the spawning aggregations at Gladden Spit.

Dalston Samuels
“Real big snappers; thirty pounders, real big one, millions of them. When they come up together like a twister coming up to the surface and boom! They just let off their eggs and the sperm together. But when that happen they open up again and the whale shark come up between there and eat. To me, it was really remarkable.”

“What was beautiful about this whole thing was that the fishermen were the ones that had the opportunity to take the tourists out, so whatever they would have lost in the wake, they were able to get it back through the eco-tourism.”

They visited restaurants and guesthouses run by locals.

Dalston Samuels
“We noticed the lifestyle of the people. They fished and they ate what they caught and there wasn’t much importation of anything outside. It gave you such a feeling when you were eating it; this is what it’s all about. You’re able to better appreciate what you have around you. And they took a little and they left a little.”

In October 2007, Dal reported his findings to the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute conference.

Dalston Samuels
“What you’ve seen here is what everyone of us in our fishing community should be able to realize. For now, Belize has it and I’m here because I want to learn to know how I can get that. Thank you.”

“At G.C.F.I. I’ve learned so many valuable lessons and one of the most important, one main thing I’ve learned is that not only the Caribbean but right now it’s the entire world that has the same problem when it comes to our environment and fishing. And the scientists, so many scientists have come together with the fishermen to put our minds, our head together to ask questions, making proposals as to how we can bring a solution to this problem that we’re having now.”

“Since I have gone to Belize and Mexico and I have seen how those guys preserve and take care of what they have, I am very optimistic about the future for Alistair, also, other fishers who have sons and daughters who will become fishers too. I want their life to be better. I don’t want them to have to struggle so much. From my experience in Dominica, seeing all those people coming from all parts of the world, knowledge is not as expensive as ignorance if you allow ignorance to prevail because when you nothing at all it will only lead to frustration and maybe eventually violence; that’s what happened to the world now. But here we are as stewards to take care of our own business and the scientists tell us look take so much of this, some of that, some of that, but don’t take all lest you have nothing left. They’re just doing their job and we are doing our job and if we can seem to work together I think the whole planet will benefit. So we have to change things a lot but we have to start with us.”

Dalston Samuels and Vernon Griffith are working with diver master and conservationist Ashton Williams to share their findings from the exchange with other fishers to pave the way for marine protected areas, no take zones and fisher cooperatives. In addition to fishing, Toribio Mata works as a park guard. German Ortega is a member of Roques Fishing Association and a shipwright. They are using the knowledge that they gain to explore the economical alternatives to fishing, promote marine protected areas and organise fishing cooperatives. Will Heyman is developing additional fisher exchanges and other hands on educational opportunities in support of Caribbean marine conservation. Juan Posada is collaborating with the fishers from the exchange and other Los Roques stakeholders in the co-management of Los Roques Natural Resources.

The Fishers Exchange Programme is coordinated by the Caribbean Environment Programme, a division of the United Nations Environment Programme. The fishers exchange provides an opportunity for the exchange of experience among artisanal fishers, thus increasing knowledge and spurring fisher initiatives proven to make a positive impact on the health of fisheries and the livelihoods of fishers.

A Fisher’s Journey was directed by Corrine McAfee with financial assistance provided by the United Nations Environment Program.

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Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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