Poor Prospects: 2014 off to Fishy Start
The lobster industry is being killed by greed, avarice and corruption

March 13th, 2014

Honduras inaugurated a new President in late January, and the Bay Islands have four new mayors, a new governor and a new representative in the Honduran National Congress. We should be expecting some changes, to provide relief from the economic crisis that has our islands in its grip. Here on Bonacca at least, I’d say we’re off to a bad start.

People have been paying handomely for permits to fish for sea cucumbers in the Bay Islands lately. But is that what they’re really fishing for? (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration photo)

People have been paying handsomely for permits to fish for sea cucumbers in the Bay Islands lately. But is that what they’re really fishing for? (US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration photo)

Aside form the recent sales tax hike and the dry Sundays, our authorities are doing their best to destroy the fisheries on which our little town depends. Twenty fourteen will be another year that the lobster season will not close. More boats than ever are rigged and, with permits bought in the capital, ready to sail to fish sea cucumbers. Some pay handsome prices for these permits. Allowing vessels that had been fishing lobster to go straight into the pepino fishing business is something that has never happened before.

This year the boats that fish sea cucumbers are no longer required to use the hookah devices that are supposed to prevent diving accidents. These devices use topside compressors to provide air for the diver. The hoses that supply the air limit the depth that the diver can reach. This year all the boats are using SCUBA.

Although sea cucumber fishing has been going on in this country for a couple of years now, nobody has taken the time to study the benefits of this echinoderm to the reef ecosystem. We do not even know the extent of the population of these animals in our waters.

The sea cucumber, and particularly its eggs and larvae, are food for fish and other marine animals, such as shrimp and lobster. According to the National Geographic web page, there must be many individuals in a sea cucumber population for them to be able to reproduce, because they breed by releasing sperm and eggs into the water, which then must meet up.

The Mexican government declared one species of sea cucumber in danger of extinction less than five years after they began to fish them. When we consider the huge expanses of the fishing areas in Mexico, that is a very short time for overfishing to take its toll.

I remember well what a fisherman from Panama said at the first meeting of the Spiny Lobster Symposium in Honduras. He said he had learned from experience that one cannot close the season on one species and leave it open for another that uses the same method of extraction. What he really meant was that a diver will not think twice about killing a more valuable species, even if it’s out of season.

Official numbers tells us that lobster production from diving and trapping is down about 40 percent. This proves that the lobster is being affected in the shallows and in the depths.

I have listened to all the arguments, and there are two conclusions that make sense to me. All the boats that dive carry metal rods with hooks at the end. Neither conch nor sea cucumbers can run away, so a “hook stick” is not necessary for either of those species. It is only necessary for trapping lobster.

To make things worse, a few days ago local fishermen spotted a boat from Roatan setting fish pots off the east end of Bonacca. They raised a fuss, and the boat left the area. But the boat is still setting traps on our red snapper banks. When I inquired about this particular boat, I was told that its owner had a special permit from Tegucigalpa. I don’t understand how anyone in the capital could issue a permit to fish with fish pot in Honduran waters. This practice has been outlawed for more than 40 years.

The lobster industry was born in Bonacca, but we won’t be the ones to kill it. It is being killed my greed, avarice and corruption.

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