A spiny situation

Recently, we discussed the issue of enforcement and the key role it plays in ensuring things get done and get done right. We talked about the speed limits on our roads and how the lack of enforcement was contributing to the road carnage and the overall ineffectiveness of the existing laws. We also reference littering and how the lack of enforcement of the laws related to littering had contributed to the “do as you like” mentality that allows people to litter with near impunity.

Beyond enforcement, we lamented the lack of analysis that accompanied knee jerk reactions to issues. We referenced the call for the lowering of the speed limits but lamented that it was not accompanied by any sound local analysis to show that lowering the un-enforced speed limit would produce any tangible results.

Now we can add the lobster debate to that mix. Three years ago, the Government of Antigua & Barbuda enacted legislation to safeguard the survival of lobster and other species. The legislation regulated the fishing patterns of local fishermen through the introduction of a closed season. The timing of the closed season was established to coincide with the reproductive cycle of the beloved spiny lobster. As the President of the Environment Awareness Association (EAG), Tahambay Smith, explained, “If the lobster industry is important, you have to have a cut-off point for it to replenish itself … give and take, that’s all nature is asking of us, to give it some time to replenish itself and then you can take again.”

From a logical and practical point of view, that is an argument that is extremely hard to argue … unless you frame it in the world or politics or money. (Funny how those two never seem far apart.) When those who want to profit from nature’s bounty decide to pressure their politicians for changes to sound legislation, logic and practicality seem to exit the room.

To illustrate why politicians should refrain from making pronouncements prior to seeking good advice (expert advice preferred), we refer you to Fisheries Minister Arthur Nibbs and his recent pronouncement that he is willing to consider asking the government to modify the closed season on lobster to help Barbudans. He said that some Barbudans had approached him and persuaded him that the government should give consideration to moving the closed season so that it did not coincide with the Caribana festivities. We are sure that the minister was just seeking to appease his constituents and score some brownie points but he should have deferred to the technical experts and set the expectations correctly.

While Nibbs conceded that the law on the books must be observed, he seemed quite willing to plead his constituent’s case in front of his colleagues without first referring to the experts on the matter. When we consider that the short two-month, closed season is timed to coincide with the reproductive cycle of the species, one of the obvious question that comes to mind is: Instead of moving the date of the closed season, is there any consideration to moving the date of Caribana? We can move that but we really have no influence on when the lobster (or other species) spawn.

The entire situation was exasperated by the wanton disregard of the laws during the sailing week festivities. Vendors plied their trade in lobster with impunity. There was no shortage of the delectable crustacean for those wanting a taste. As the EAG’s Smith noted, there were many vendors selling lobster at the recently held Dickenson Bay Beach Bash, even though there was a heavy police presence. Is it that the officers are unaware of the law (Fisheries Act of 2013)? Maybe they believe that the responsibility for enforcement lies in the hands of the Fisheries Division.

We can all sit around the table and point fingers until they fall off but that will get us nowhere. From our perspective, the laws seem reasonable in order to protect one of our great marine treasures from becoming nonexistent, so we should all respect that, and law enforcement should do as their name implies and enforce the laws.

We could go on into greater depth and discuss the stimulus of enforcement to train a Pavlovian response, or that “you never miss the water until the well runs dry” but instead, we shall simply refer to Hebrews 12:11 which tells us “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” Can we get an amen?

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