Three years ago, the Government of Antigua & Barbuda enacted legislation to safeguard the survival of lobster and other species which regulated the fishing patterns of local fishermen through the introduction of a closed season.
However, six days after the beginning of the 2017 closed season for lobsters, OBSERVER media observed vendors selling the delicacy.
This prompted the media house to launch an investigation to determine the extent to which lobsters are caught and sold during the official closed season. After all, many people would ask: “How can you promote tourism and can’t sell lobster? Up there they have all the steak, chicken, veal but they come for lobster. So, you need to find a way around the system to get lobster for Caribana next month.”
President of the Environmental Awareness Group (EAG), Tahambay Smith is adamant that “unless there is “proper policing” during the closed season and “proper cooperation” from all stakeholders, there is never going to be a particular way where everybody is happy. He strongly opined that the only way full cooperation could be achieved from all stakeholders “is if regulations are put in place that are heavily policed”.
He stressed: “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 us, to give it some time to replenish itself, and then you can take again.”
He noted than an important public event such as the Dickenson Bay Beach Bash, which had a strong police presence, was selling lobster six days after the season closed. The environmentalist reiterated that the stakeholders – Fisheries Division, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, hoteliers, restaurateurs and vendors – must agree to honour the regulations.
He, however, acknowledged that restaurants and hotels stockpile the seafood in the height of the tourist season, which could lead to such facilities having the prized delicacy in stock when the closed season begins on May 1.
OBSERVER media understands that the Fisheries Act of 2013 has mandated that there shall be no lobsters caught or stored for the period of May 1 to June 30 every year. The same act prohibits the catching of parrot fish colloquially referred to as ‘chub’ from May 1 to August 1 with abusers of this law facing fines when enforced by the Fisheries Division.
The first offence would result in a charge of $1,000. The second offence doubles that fine along with confiscation and if a person is caught a third time that person will be taken to court where the fee catapults to $50,000.
However, during our investigation, OBSERVER media contacted 10 restaurants with only one admitting to having lobsters “stockpiled” in freezers while of the five suppliers contacted, one was found selling the seafood out of season.
Stating that these findings are not isolated, the EAG president said that he has recommended a system in which inspectors could go into establishments and take stocks during the season to “verity that you do have [lobster] so, at least, you know they aren’t any fresh catches.”
He stressed that businesses “should make sure you have your license and that you are within the confines of the law to operate and facilitate checks and balances”.
Smith added: “establishing registration of what quantities are in stock could take pressure off the inspectors.“
(More in today’s Daily Observer)