In terms of landings, the Caribbean is only small scale compared with giant fishing nations such as Japan, the US, Iceland and Spain but it does provide necessary incomes for local economies and some opportunities for foreign vessels - Although it is not one of the world's largest or well developed commercial fishing areas, the Caribbean helps fuel America's massive demand for fish and seafood and has valuable species such as swordfish and tuna.
The fisheries on some of the islands are largely artisanal. Although small, they play an important role in proving employment opportunities and high protein food for the local populations. On some islands such as the Bahamas, Grenada and Trinidad, export is important.
The industry has changed in the last few years and fishing effort has on the whole grown substantially. The Government has developed several programs that have had substantial results. This has mainly been done by improving vessels and introducing more effective gear. Fishing though on many of the islands is still largely unregulated and therefore the result has been a rise in fishing pressure and a a decrease in some of the most valuable stocks.
One of the main ideas pursued by many islands is to encourage fisherman to shift from heavily fished inshore fisheries to offshore pelagic fisheries which on the whole are still not fully utilised.
Fisheries management in the Caribbean can be difficult with over 30 EEZ's to look after.
In fact the sea area in the Caribbean is smaller than the EEZ's of individual countries such as Brazil, Chile and the US.
Many of the islands within the Caribbean have limited statistical programs, limited administration resources, and minimal enforcement capabilities and because of this fisheries management has been difficult to undertake.
The Caribbean is also quite important in terms of swordfish.
Despite the relatively low quantities actually caught, the Caribbean is important for a number of reasons.
One is bycatch trends. Longline fishing is a relatively clean fishing gear in comparison to many other gears like trawls and gillnets. There is a significant incidental catch associated with longline fisheries.
In some fisheries the incidental catch is an important part of the economic earnings. A recent report found that artisanal fisheries in the Caribbean appear to be affecting some species such as billfish and shark. The second is that although the longline fleets of Caribbean countries are modest, several countries register foreign-owned fishing vessels.
But in some cases the complications involved have lead countries to rethinking their policies. The Cayman islands for example, has decided to end its registration of foreign owned vessels.
International management is also important where some of the caribbean islands are concerned.
According to the US Department of Commerce, it is important for the ICCAT that countries such as Barbados and Trinidad take part.
The island's also play an important role is spawning and nursery areas for north atlantic fish stocks as well as being key transshipping areas for swordfish and other species. The most important port for this is the Port-of-Spain in Trinidad and Philisburg on the island of St Maarten. Swordfish, tuna and billfish are the most common species to be shipped through these islands.
Below is an outline of the islands in the Caribbean that are fundamental to the industry:
The Barbados domestic fleet is one of the larger commercial pelagic longline fleets of all the Caribbean island countries and is one of the few Caribbean fleets to catch swordfish.
Foreign vessels have been very active in the EEZ including the Asian longlining countries such as Japan, Korea and Taiwan. The Barbados Fisheries Division considers the pelagic longline sector to be one of the most promising sectors in the future.Apart from swordfish and tuna the other main species in the EEZ include albacore, dorado, king mackerel and shark.The main pelagic fishing season in Barbados generally peaks during April and May. All non-Barbadian fishing vessels require a fishing permit to operate in the country's EEZ.
The country has an open registry or a policy of making flag-of-convenience registrations for foreign vessel owners. Foreign owners are generally interested in avoiding a demanding regulatory regime or reducing operating costs.
In the past Barbados has signed bilateral fishery relations with several neighbouring and distant water countries such as Brazil, Cuba and France and in recent times, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.
Bermuda has recently reported a substantial decline in its fisheries catch. This is largely due to overfishing and also pollution according to the Government.
In the last few years the Government has issued licenses to foreign longliners operating around Bermuda. The country, according to the Government, has some potential
for developing fisheries targeting oceanic species such as swordfish and tunas. Interest from foreign countries such as Canada, Taiwan, the US and others demonstrates that there is commercial potential for the future. In recent years the foreign vessels licensed by Bermuda have generally been the standard longliners deployed by Japanese, Korean and Taiwan fishing companies as well as some side trawlers from the Faroe Islands.
There has been a decrease in the total number of foreign vessels in the Bermuda EEZ since the early 1990s. There are still opportunities for foreign vessels however, with the main interest being in albacore, bigeye, bluefin and yellowfin tuna as well as swordfish and shark.
Grenada is one of the eastern Caribbean islands with a substantial offshore pelagic fishery. It was well developed even as far back as the lated eighties when some US longliners operated from Grenada.
This was followed by the Japanese providing Grenada with longliners as part of a larger fisheries development assistance program.
Yellowfin catches and exported have increased substantially since the late eighties and although, according to reports, the tuna fishery peaked in the mid 1990s very good cathes were reported in 1999. A change of fishing strategy in recent years has also seen a rise in swordfish catches in the EEZ.
Puerto Rico has a largely dimersal fishery although some fishermen do target pelagic species.
Despite this fishing pressure is beginning to take its toll and yields have been reduced in recent years. US longline fishermen are catching swordfish in the northwest Caribbean and many operate out of San Juan on a seasonal basis.
While swordfish catches have declined, the island's domestic and offshore mainland longline fishery is of some interest in any Caribbean assessment because it has been studied in more depth than any of the other islands.
The country plays an important part in the US tuna canning industry. The major companies involved in the industry were attracted to Puerto Rico because of tax concessions. Canneries have been built in Mayaguez in the northwest of the country and Ponce in the south, in the past but have since closed as the tuna companies changed their operations.
As a port San Juan offers excellent facilities and a developed financial infrastructure. The San Juan International Airport is the busiest in the Caribbean.
Jamaica is one of the most heavily exploited fisheries in the Caribbean and efforts to manage the island's fisheries have proven unsuccessful.
It is said that many fishermen operate in Jamaican waters without even registering with the Government.
At the moment fishery officials are keen to continue to promote pelagic longlining.
Jamaica, however, has not been actively involved with any multilateral agreements in the past few years, although it has created a bilateral agreement with Columbia.
The Netherlands Antilles and Aruba
The Dutch Caribbean islands consist of two widely seperated island groups. The Windward Group in the northeast have limited fishing opportunities but the Leeward Group in the south has a more substantial industry.
According to the US DEpartment of Commerce, more attention is being given to the longlining of tuna and swordfish as well as other pelagics. Small scale shipments of tuna and swordfish to the US have also been reported. On St Maarten, a Japanese company has for many years operated a transhipment point for foreign longliners targeting the Atlantic. According to recent reports up to 20 large Taiwan longliners were said to have operated out of the island in 2000.
Adapted from a report on the Caribbean by the US Department of Commerce, National Marine Fisheries Service
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