Honduran Fisheries Going to Pot

May 30th, 2012
by Alfonso Ebanks

v10-6-Our IslandsIn the summer of 1982 I captained a fishing trawler loaded with 30,000 pounds of frozen fish from Bonacco to Jamaica via Georgetown, Grand Cayman. We spent a few days in the Caymans and sailed for Jamaica at an hour that I supposed would put us at Port Royal during daylight hours the following day. After identifying the lighthouse at Negril, I gave instructions to the helmsman and went to my bunk.

Sometime during the night I was awakened and found that we were surrounded by lights. Per instructions the helmsman had maintained a two-mile distance from the shore on the radar and at a minimum depth of 20 fathoms on the depth sounder. There should not have been any lights out there. I decided to anchor the vessel and wait until morning.

Just before daybreak I was informed that the lights I had seen were from fish pots (traps) illuminated by fishermen from the town of Pedro. The competition for fishing area was so keen that the fishermen had to put light bulbs in their fish pots at night and station watchmen ashore to ensure no one tampered with their gear.

During my stay at Kingston I saw many fishing boats unload. The fish was sold by the bushel, and there was not one fish over four inches. I questioned a captain and I was told that Jamaican waters were so over fished that these tiny fish were all that was being caught.

I am reminded of that now because recently, with our lobster fishing grounds in Honduras almost depleted and many boat owners thinking of fishing instead for scale fish using lines and hooks, fishermen have been reporting finding fish pots set along the Honduran coast. I learned to my surprise that the Honduran Government, without prior notiice, had reversed a decades-old law that strictly forbade the use of fish pots in Honduran waters. The only exception to the prior ban was a special permit given to Jamaicans on Savana Cay, because the government was afraid of the Cays being taken over by the Nicaraguans.

Fish pots are destructive to fisheries because they kill all species and all sizes of fish. They retrieve fish from depth, and once brought to the surface, the fish cannot survive even if thrown back in the water.

In contrast to the crude Jamaican fish pots constructed of simple wooden frames and chicken wire, the fish pots now appearing along the Honduran coast are made of galvanized steel rods covered with 10-gauge vinyl-coated fence wire and zinc plates to prevent electrolysis from decaying the metal of the pot. If one of these more durable pots is lost on the ocean bottom, it will kill fish for 5-10 years.

Over the years the Jamaicans have destroyed the fishing grounds around the easternmost cays of this country. Now our own people, aided by some foreigners, are using Jamaican techniques to destroy the red snapper grounds off the north coast of Honduras. These grounds have been the source of sustenance for island fishermen for the last 160 years, and never before has anyone been permitted to use fish pots there.

Some of the same people using the fish pots are also deploying longlines, which are also forbidden by Honduran law. What fish pots do to bottom fish, longlines do to fish at the surface.

Honduras recently enacted a law prohibiting the killing and commercializing of all species of sharks. Longlines kill sharks, as well as turtles and sea birds, many of which are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates more than 40,000 turtles are killed every year by longlines. Other experts say that if longlines are not abolished, the world will lose most species of sharks in the next decade.

International maritime law stipulates that a longline without an identifying flag is legally salvageable – free for the taking because it is not attached to the vessel that deployed it. If salvaged, the iron rods and fence wire could be sold as scrap, and the monofilament used in longlines could be used to make clotheslines or killicks.

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