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In Antigua, Fishing Brings Both Income and Ecological Destruction

24May2012_FishingPhoto by Desmond Brown/IPS

24-05-2012."If there is one fish in Antigua I'd say you have to protect, it's the parrotfish, but the Fisheries Department exports it," Fuller added.

Apart from Belize, other examples of successful, zoned marine protected areas exist in the Caribbean.

The 6,600 hectares Tobago Cays Marine Park in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is divided into nine different zones. Included are specifications for mooring different sized vessels and for turtle and seabird reserves. The protected area offers great economic benefits to the population and is a valued part of its social, cultural and environmental landscape.

Soufriere Marine Management Area in St. Lucia, encompassing 11 kilometres of coastline, is divided into five zones. Conflicts between different types of users and declining near-shore catches led to the reserve's creation.

Many marine protected areas, including Tobago Cays, prohibit fishing, thus allowing sea life in the area to grow and reproduce unimpeded.

Studies have also shown that such no-fish areas help "replenish" fish stocks in other areas, with increased catch sizes and larger individual fish. No-fish zones also protect other sea life that might otherwise inadvertently be caught in nets.

The fishing conundrum

Vince Best, environmental scientist and lecturer at the Antigua State College, told IPS that coral bleaching provides direct evidence of the effects of climate change on reef ecosystems. Scientists speculate that coral bleaching will become an annual event by approximately 2020.

"Another detrimental effect of global climate change," Best noted, will be the increase in carbon dioxide in oceans that will increase the acidity of ocean water, therefore "reducing the solubility of other compounds...needed by corals in reef-building."

To this end, he said, administrations in Antigua and Barbuda, as well as other nations with this unique source of life, need to do more to protect their coral reefs.

"Many of the administrations in affected nations have concentrated on economic growth, primarily with little regard to the damage caused to the very resources which allow for said economic growth," Best said.

For example, "in the Caribbean, we are highly reliant on tourism as the mainstay of our particular economies, yet coral reefs are one of the many resources which attract tourists to our shores."

And while actual estimates of the direct economic value of coral reefs to Antigua and Barbuda are difficult to obtain, established research has estimated that the communities located in coastal areas, as well as national economies in the general Caribbean region, are likely to sustain substantial economic losses should the current trends in coral reef degradation and destruction continue.

It has been estimated that fisheries associated with coral reef in the Caribbean region are responsible for generating net annual revenues, which have been valued at or above approximately 837 million East Caribbean dollars, or about 310 million U.S. dollars.

Continued degradation of the region's few remaining coral reefs would diminish these net annual revenues by an estimated 95-140 million U.S. dollars annually by 2015. The subsequent decrease in dive tourism could also profoundly affect annual net tourism revenues.

Meanwhile, one of the Caribbean's main sources of income is simultaneously causing some of the worst damage to reefs.

"Fishing has historically been recognized as a given to the growth of the Caribbean economy," Best said. It not only serves as a source of food for the region, but as part of the export market, it also contributes millions of dollars to regional economies.

In the Caribbean, Best said, fisheries are an unregulated "free access resource". Yet "the location and distribution of the fish are highly predictable," he added.

While all hope is not lost, Best pointed out that tremendous damage has already been done to reef systems in the Caribbean, and in some cases, he said, damage is so severe that many of the reefs are beyond repair.

But he said there are a number of inexpensive and practical measures, which can be taken to ameliorate the physical status of reefs in the Caribbean. One initiative, the Reefs at Risk project, suggests several possible actions.

They include "the establishment of better management practices to encourage sustainable fisheries, to protect reefs from direct damage, and to integrate the sometimes conflicting approaches to management in the watersheds and adjacent waters around coral reefs".

"Fundamental to supporting these actions is wider involvement of the public and stakeholders in the management process, as well as an improved level of understanding of the importance of coral reefs," he added.