November 28, 2023

Caribbean leaders sharpen fisheries focus

Member countries of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) now have a more focused agenda for improving sustainable fisheries and aquaculture, coming out of the 6th Meeting of the CRFM’s Ministerial Council, hosted on Friday, June 15, in Nassau, The Bahamas.

Outgoing chairman of the Ministerial Council, Minister Hilston Baptiste of Antigua and Barbuda, urged the incoming chairman to provide strong and decisive leadership so that the CRFM would remain relevant to the needs of the region.

“If we are to continue to benefit from the resources of the sea, we have an imperative to do all in our power to protect our resources for the many livelihoods which depend on them,” said the new chairman of the CRFM Ministerial Council, Hon. V. Alfred Gray, recently appointed Minister of Agriculture, Marine Resources and Local Government in The Bahamas.

In his opening address, Minister Gray noted that fisheries contributes 2% of the Bahamas’ national GDP, employs more than 12,000 Bahamians, with lobster alone generating more than US$75 million in export earnings each year.

CRFM Executive Director Milton Haughton, who has worked in fisheries management for over 25 years, noted the results of numerous studies that have confirmed the health benefits of eating fish each week. He pointed to brain development in children and brain health in adults; as well as a lower risk of asthma, dementia, depression and inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, stroke and heart disease.

During their daylong deliberation, Ministerial Council members reiterated their commitment to regional cooperation, and enhancing the role of the CRFM Secretariat and the operation of the Caribbean Fisheries Forum, made up of Chief Fisheries Officers and Director of Fisheries. They also thanked FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) for agreeing to assist with a performance review of the CRFM, and a new Strategic Plan to guide the work of the organization for the next 10 years.

Highlighted were the need for coordinated regional action to control the negative impact of the invasive lionfish on marine ecosystems and fish stocks; and the negative impact of unprecedented large quantities of Sargassum seaweed that inundated the waters and coastline of the Eastern Caribbean Islands in the latter half of 2011. The meeting noted with grave concern the reappearance of the seaweed this year and urged Member States to monitor the situation closely and take preparatory action to minimize disruption to fisheries and other economic activities in the coastal areas, should the phenomenon also pose a problem this year.

The 6th Meeting of the Council also addressed the development of a strategy and action plan on disaster management and climate change for fishing communities, and actions to better mitigate impacts on marine resources and livelihoods of fishers and fishing communities.

The Fisheries Ministers received and endorsed recommendations aimed at reducing poverty and vulnerability in fishing communities arising from a regional study on poverty in fishing communities done with technical support from Spain. The recommendations of a study to prepare a master plan for sustainable use of coastal resources, undertaken with technical assistance from Japan, were also endorsed.

The Council also agreed on the establishment of a Working Group on Aquaculture to spearhead the expansion of aquaculture development (including mariculture) in the region, and a Working Group on ICCAT (International Commission for Conservation of Atlantic Tunas), to improve coordinated regional involvement of CARICOM countries in the activities of ICCAT, aimed at sustainable management of tuna and tuna-like species.

The Council urged Member States to strengthen the implementation of international fisheries instruments, as well as their national legislation to help combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing in the region.

In light of international developments, the ministers called upon members to review the new FAO Agreement on Port State Measures to Prevent, Deter and Eliminate Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing (2009), and the International Labour Organisation (C-188) – Working in Fisheries Convention (2007), to determine whether these could assist in improving fisheries in the region.

They thanked their development partners such as JICA (Japan International Cooperation Agency), FAO, Government of Spain, European Union, CTA, AusAID, CLME (Caribbean Large Marine Ecosystem Project), Government of Iceland and the United Nations University Fisheries Training Project, IBD/World Bank Pilot Project on Climate Resilience, IOI/Dalhousie University, University of Florida Sea Grant, and the US SEFSC/NMFS for their contributions to fisheries.

The Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) was officially inaugurated on 27 March 2003, in Belize City, Belize, where it is headquartered, following the signing of the “Agreement Establishing the CRFM” on February 4, 2002. It is an inter-governmental organization with its mission being to “To promote and facilitate the responsible utilization of the region’s fisheries and other aquatic resources for the economic and social benefits of the current and future population of the region”. The CRFM consist of three bodies – the Ministerial Council; the Caribbean Fisheries Forum; and the CRFM Secretariat. Its members are Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, The Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

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