Lobsters, the threatened economic boon of the local economy, and Lionfish, the feared invasive species for the entire region, were the subject of two complementary Sea and Learn presentations.
Visiting scholar Mark Butler gave a presentation at Queen’s Gardens Resort on “The Tale of the Spiny Lobster: Homelessness, Pestilence and Alien Encounters,” on Thursday, October 11. Butler is a professor and eminent scholar with the Department of Biological Sciences at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia (USA). Butler’s presentation brought impressive data with super-computer generated models in tri-dimensional visual displays of Caribbean-wide larvae distribution via marine currents and later lobster lifecycle movements. Because of their widespread and abundance, spiny lobsters are significant indicators of the ecology of exploited coastal species.
Talking about the sustainability of Caribbean commercial and recreational fisheries, Butler remarked that lobsters are the most valuable catch in the entire Caribbean, generating anywhere in the range of one to two billion US dollars a year. They are mostly exported to Europe and the United States. Some ten countries in the region catch over 90 per cent of the entire Caribbean fish. Saba is not one of them, but it too is experiencing a region-wide trend in catch decrease. A 30 per cent decline in the last decade is estimated for the entire region. Fishery management for the specie remains parochial, varying for each island, instead of a regional mechanism.
Nature policy coordinator for the Dutch Caribbean with the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation (EL&I) Hoetjes is a key figure in establishing the Dutch Caribbean Nature Alliance (DCNA) and in the policy advocacy that led to the protection of the Saba Bank. While focusing on the Caribbean-wide lionfish invasion, Hoetjes touched on the fact that the Saba Bank appears to be relatively protected, suggesting that the local habitat’s resilience may be a result of marine park protection of large predators such as sharks and large groupers. This comes in stark contrast with Bonaire and Curaçao where the numbers spiked substantially higher. Hoetjes connected the Caribbean-wide decline in lobster catch with the lionfish invasion progression, with the proven ability of the lionfish to reduce 80 per cent of reef fish as unchallenged predator.
The other point stressed by Hoetjes was that promoting consumption of Lionfish may be the most efficient weapon in the combating the potential devastating consequences of the Lionfish invasion. He emphasized that the invasion could never be eradicated but could be controlled, and presented some appetizing lionfish dishes now popular in some of the affected islands.