The Bahamas spiny lobster fishery is recognized as the trophy commercial fishery that supports many Bahamian families. Here in Abaco, fishing communities stretch from as far north as Grand Cay to Moore’s Island in the south. In the past, fishermen ventured out in search of these marine creatures as a way to provide food on the table for their families. After realizing the value of spiny lobster, known locally as crawfish, fishermen began engaging in commercial fishing and exporting lobsters via lobster processors and exporters for shipment to Europe, Canada and the United States. The Bahamas spiny lobster fishery brings in millions of dollars each year supporting over 9,000 Bahamian families both directly and indirectly. In fact, in 2010 according to Department of Marine Resources unofficial data posted in the Nassau Tribune on April 29, 2011, more than 4 million pounds of lobster was exported. This valued more than $67 million!
Since the lobster fishery is so valuable, concerns about the future sustainability have come to light. In 2010 Friends of the Environment began working with local fishermen to identify threats facing the Bahamian spiny lobster fishery. One of the biggest concerns identified at that time was the fishing of undersized lobsters. The Bahamian law states that it is illegal for anyone to capture lobsters whose tails measure less than 5 ½ inches. However, many fishermen reported that undersize fishing of lobsters was a huge problem. The Size Matters Campaign and Spike, its mascot, were created in response to this concern with assistance from RARE Conservation.
Meanwhile, national partners also became concerned about the future of this industry. Buyers from importing countries such as Europe and the United States announced they would only be buying lobsters certified according to the prestigious Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) standards. This certification gives consumers secured confidence the fishery is not being exploited to extinction and meets the strictest environmental standards.
In order for The Bahamas to remain competitive and to improve the spiny lobster fishery, the Bahamas Government along with the international and national environmental organizations, launched the Bahamas Fishery Improvement Project (FIP) in 2009. This FIP aims to move the Bahamas spiny lobster fishery towards achieving the MSC certification. Without it, we may lose this fishery. The loss of income for thousands of Bahamians would lead to devastating effects on the Bahamian economy. Achieving the MSC is not out of reach, but requires the participation of everyone involved. FRIENDS has a seat on the Bahamas Spiny Lobster Working Group, a committee dedicated to helping facilitate activities necessary to ensuring that The Bahamas has a sustainable spiny lobster fishery.
With the opening of spiny lobster season on August 1st it’s important to keep the regulations in mind so that we can all enjoy spiny lobster this season and in the seasons to come. Check their size before you spear them and make sure they are not egg bearing. Undersized spiny lobsters haven’t had the chance to reproduce, so it’s important to leave them in the ocean.
Even if you don’t fish for lobsters or sell them commercially, you can still help make a difference. The next time you sit down to eat a scrumptious lobster dish, ask your provider if your meal was cooked with lobsters that had tails that measured 5 ½ inches or bigger!
This work was supported by the following organizations: World Wildlife Fund (WWF-US), The Nature Conservancy, Global Environment Facility- Small Grants Programme (GEF-SGP), Bahamas Department of Marine Resources and Rare Conservation.
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Size Matters Campaign Song, by Geno D