Many people do not realize that lobsters play a vital role to reefs. They clean all the organic garbage up by eating it. Without them, the corals eventually start to die, probably due to bacterial infections or lack of oxygen due to decomposing debris.
I once had a lengthy conversation with an aquantance, a very intelligent and accomplished lobster fisherman in South Andros in The Bahamas on the subject of sustainable lobster fishing. We discussed the sustainability of various fisheries and in his opinion , the way things were going, the current levels (this was in 1999) and methods of Lobster fishing was not sustainable in the long turn. He said that he had personally observed that the reefs in the areas where the lobsters had been decimated, were not as healthy as those in less accessible areas. He was convinced that this was because the lobsters were not around to clean up. He felt an internal conflict between his need to make a living and his enjoyment of his life on the sea and the certainty that his and others’ activities was seriously harming the environment.
The lobster boats range far and wide throughout the vast Bahamian seas. They travel for a month or more with Large, 100 ft plus ‘mother’ ships with huge freezers on board. Each mother ship tows a dozen or so small speedboats, each with their own compressor each of which is typically shared by 2-3 fishermen.
In The Bahamas it is illegal to use scuba tanks to fish and so they get around that by using surface supplied air or in shallow areas many still do free dive. They have honed their techniques for maximizing the harvest that they get and have established thousands of “lobster condos”, even in the remotest areas, constructed of concrete sewer pipe segments stacked on their sides in pyramids.
The lobsters love the tunnels that are so nicely provided for them and quickly fill them up and use them to live in. Once lobster season opens they are really easy to scoop out of the pipes and the harvest is much quicker and easier than when they used to have to scour the reefs for their prey. On the positive side, at least the ‘collateral’ damage to the reefs is reduced since the fisherman does not have to poke and search in all the nooks and crannies. Some people argue and claim that the condos actually increase the numbers and size of lobsters on the reefs. This may be true.
Almost all the lobsters taken in The Bahamas are shipped to the US and purchased by the large restaurant chains and suppliers. Some even contract individual boats at guaranteed prices for everything they take.
The Bahamian lobster fishermen earn up to US$3000 per week or more which is a lot of money for where they are. I’m sure the mother ship owners are making huge profits. Most of the fishermen spend all their earnings on drugs, drinking and partying in Nassau between trips and within weeks after the end of the season are broke again and looking for ways to make a living. I mention this to illustrate that for the most part, there is very little long term gain for the community and area.
The fishermen of The Bahamas have long provided much of their food for their communities and families from the reefs surrounding their islands. It seems that the health of these reefs may be now put at risk by the mass harvesting techniques that modern technology and human ingenuity have allowed and developed.
So, what’s the message?
My take on it: The demand for seafood creates the market for the fishermen. They then invest in lots of boats and equipment and develop more and more efficient ways of “harvesting” lobsters and other species and throughout the world, this type of situation almost always leads to eventual collapse of the natural population of the targeted species and or fishery in a given area.
For a bit of reference take a look at the World Resource Site for instance. There is a long list of reference books there for those with access to that kind of thing. Or you can just read the summaries and be an armchair expert like me :-}
Let’s look at wildlife, not eat it!!
Speak out in what you believe. It might just make a difference however small.