Fishermen reaping the benefits of fish sanctuary

BY ROCHELLE WILLIAMS (Jamaica Information Service)

Sunday, March 26, 2017

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The Fishermen of Oracabessa Bay in St Mary are reaping the benefits of the locally established fish sanctuary, which has significantly increased the fish stock in the area.

Manager of the Oracabessa Bay Fish Sanctuary, Inilek Wilmot told JIS News since the inception of the project in 2008, there has been a significant increase in the fish stock.

"We have per area measurement for fish and this gives an indication of the density of fish there. Up to 2016, we had a 17 fold increase in fish bio mass per area inside the fish sanctuary," he said.

In September 2010 and May 2011, rapid ecological assessments of the reefs within and immediately adjacent to the Oracabessa Bay Fish Sanctuary were conducted by the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) to determine reef health and the status of fish populations.

In the initial phase, 69 different species of fish were recorded in the sanctuary during the assessments, with 40 per cent of fish species recorded during the period in low densities.

These species include blue tangs, bar jacks, graysby and Coney. Commercially important species such as snappers and grunts were critically depleted.

The sanctuary, a joint project between the Oracabessa Foundation and the St Mary Fishermen’s Cooperative, is a 96.1 hectare protected area of the sea where fishing is prohibited.

It acts as a breeding ground for a variety of reef fish including snapper, parrot and doctor fish and houses mangroves, sea grass, coral reef and a river.

The primary objective of the sanctuary is to create a ‘no fishing zone’ to protect the breeding grounds and fish habitats in the bay and to gradually increase the fish population in the adjacent fishing areas.

Explaining that the sanctuary is designed to provide maximum spillover, Wilmot said the sanctuary enables the marine population to be replenished by allowing the fish to reach full maturity and reproduce, thereby increasing the fish stock exponentially.

"The spillover effect works in the sense that space in the sanctuary is limited and when the population of fish get to a certain capacity, they have to leave and find new areas to feed and have a habitat... the fishermen set their traps along the edge and catch the fish that are leaving (meanwhile) we protect the ones inside," he said.

He argued that the project assists fishermen to earn more money from the increased fish supply.

"We are finding that the fishermen are catching more fish around the sanctuary than even in the more remote places. Now when you travel around the border of the sanctuary, you find that there is a line of fish traps. That is how it’s supposed to work. It’s producing fish and the fishermen are benefitting," the sanctuary manager noted.

Meanwhile, Wilmot said that the fishermen are fully invested in the project which they see as an essential measure for the sustainability of their livelihood.

He reported that the fishermen act as wardens, patrolling the sanctuaries and are empowered as game wardens under the Wildlife Protection Act to enforce the fishing laws.

Offences under the Act include the use of explosive or noxious substances and unauthorised traps to knowingly injure, kill or take immature fish from protected areas for non-commercial/commercial activities.

Programme stakeholders also work closely with the marine police, as well as the regular police and the legal system in reporting and investigating incidents.

Significantly, Wilmot noted that the Government’s community-based management approach to fish sanctuaries, coupled with public education activities on the functions and importance of the fish sanctuary among community members, is proving to be effective in addressing issues associated with overfishing.

The Oracabessa Fish Sanctuary is one of approximately 13 sanctuaries established across the island.

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