Recently, we were made aware of a mandatory moratorium on the fishing, buying and selling of the Caribbean Spiny Lobster. It seems that after years of overfishing, populations of spiny lobster are decreasing in coastal waters. The Panamanian Authority of Fishing and Wildlife instituted a moratorium to last from March until the end of June on the fishing of lobster, coinciding with a Pan-Central American moratorium. It was the first time that every Central American country would be participating.
Lobster had been on our menu and a few days each week, fisherman come walking up with lobster. These fishermen are local indigenous islanders, where fishing and diving for lobster is their only income.
In the past we have used our “buying power” in order to influence our environmental impact through these fisherman and other local, indigenous suppliers. Executive Chef Ben Jones has visited local farms on the island buying organic and local harvests, designing his menu around these foods, rather than imported vegetables. We have encouraged the fishing of only adult lobsters, refusing to buy undersized lobsters and even turning away repeat offenders. We blacklisted a local fishermen once, when we found a dead sea turtle in his cayuco. Through our efforts, fishermen realize the motives behind our reasoning and buy into sustainable practices as well.
So although we knew the livelihood of many of our fishermen was in jeopardy with this moratorium, we also knew that it would be temporary and this could help them out long-term.
At the same time that the moratorium was introduced, we were made aware of the recent lionfish invasion. Allene Baker, editor of the Bocas Breeze, a local newspaper, printed her second piece on the population explosion of this invasive species.
Summing up her comments: the lionfish is found naturally only in the Pacific. It was introduced to the Carribean by aquarium owners who dumped their fish into the ocean. The lionfish has no natural predators in the Atlantic, has a voracious appetite and reproduces often and productively. These three factors have led to the eradication of other species of reef fish throughout Caribbean waters. The lionfish was first positively identified in Bocas waters in 2009. Now they are being spotted with frequency.
After reading this, we performed an unofficial survey of local fishermen. They all confirmed the recent and prolific appearance of the lionfish. Something had to be done.
With the news of the lobster moratorium, we explained that we would not be buying lobster and discouraged them from fishing for lobster until the summer. We also printed off pictures of the lionfish, explained the problem and offered a small sum for any fish that they could spear. Although the fish doesn’t fetch as high as a price (it is not something we can serve on our menu), it was a welcome source of income to our lobster divers. They have already begun their efforts and are successfully defending the invasion of the lionfish. It may be a small effort but I am sure of it’s effectiveness as these guys spend all their time in the water.
This is a photo of one of our fishermen, with a whole bunch of lionfish that he speared.