Speech delivered by Permanent Secretary, Donovan Stanberry on behalf of The Hon. Roger Clarke, Minister of Agriculture And Fisheries

‘Scotia goes green on lionfish- ‘Let’s eat them to beat them’

March 22, 2012
Port Royal Mariner

I wish to commend Scotia for this new initiative, which we all hope will assist in safeguarding our fisheries resources and that more and more people will join the campaign to eat the lionfish as we seek to create a sustainable fisheries industry.

Challenges to the Fisheries Sector

The fisheries sector and fishers in particular face many challenges today in addition to the lionfish threat. The primary problem being the continued decline in the reef fisheries since the 1970’s with the fish being caught today being of smaller sizes and of lesser quality. This problem is due to many reasons but the greatest causes are: the destruction and loss of fish habitats, especially nursery areas for juvenile fish; overfishing caused by bad fishing practices such as the use of mesh sizes that are too small; pollution and natural events like hurricanes that destroy our reefs. We know that fishers face other problems such as the rising cost of fuel, piracy at sea, and limited access to reasonable loans.

Priority Programmes and Activities to Address the Challenges

With these challenges in mind, the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has taken the early initiative to support the local fisheries sector through a number of programmes in recent years, spearheaded by its Fisheries Division. These include inter alia:

Fishing in deep waters can be dangerous, however, there are a few things that can be done to minimize the level of risk involved.

1. The development and refinement of a National Fisheries Policy for Cabinet submission which embraces the principles and tenets of the Common Fisheries Policy including the Ecosystems approach to Fisheries and Aquaculture Development and Management.

2. The preparation of modern fisheries legislation that provides a contemporary framework for the regulation of the fisheries and aquaculture sub-sectors. The policy document is in its final phases of preparation, while the new Fisheries Bill has been drafted and is now with the Attorney General’s chamber for review before going on to the legislative sub-committee of Parliament.

3. Formation of advisory bodies or boards for both aquaculture and fisheries in the form of the Aquaculture Development and Advisory group and the Fisheries Advisory Board to the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries

4. Establishment of an Agricultural Development Fund and a Fisheries Management and Development Fund both of which are being used to finance projects benefiting the sustainable development of the Fisheries sector.

5. The enhancement and rehabilitation of sensitive and critical Marine habitats through the introduction of artificial reef systems and lobster juvenile shelters (condominiums).

6. Enacting more stringent regulations for Spiny Lobsters management including a ban on possession during the Close Season for Lobsters.

7. Enactment of new regulations to increase the mesh wire size to 1 ˝ inches, and the banning of all night fishing using spearguns or other impaling devices.

8. Creating a safer and more sanitary working environment for fisher-folk through the rehabilitation of fishing beaches across the island, with structured projects developing fish vending areas, sanitary block and gear sheds.

9. Aiding in reducing the risk of losing fishers at sea by establishing a Marine VHF radio communication system for fishers covering the island and the Pedro Bank.

10. And the establishment of nine recent fish sanctuaries with attendant funding to support partner NGO’s in co-managing the said sanctuaries via Memoranda of Agreements. The recently declared sanctuaries bring the total number to eleven fish sanctuaries across the country.

As the returning Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, I intend to expand the fish sanctuaries programme to include five or six more sanctuaries by early next year. These include sites in St. Thomas, St. Catherine, Westmoreland, Trelawney, St. Mary, and last but not least an area around South west Cays - Pedro Bank. More will be added in years to come.

Safety at Sea

Before I speak about the challenges of the lionfish, I wish to spend a few minutes on a very important issue – safety at sea. Recently, we were fortunate to have returned to us, two of Jamaica’s fishers. However, they were the lucky ones as the captain of the vessel perished at sea. Fishing in deep waters can be dangerous, however, there are a few things that can be done to minimize the level of risk involved. Unfortunately, our fisher folk do not always practice these basic tips that can potentially save their lives. As part of the condition of a fisherman’s license, they are required to carry with them life jackets, flashlight, paddles in the boat, safety flares and a mirror.

One of the fishermen reported that three boats had passed but they were unable to signal them. If they had had a mirror, they could have used the natural God given sunlight to signal those boats. We also encouraged fishermen to carry a compass, because there are no road signs at sea.

Under the new fisheries regulation, we will require as a condition of the license that all fishermen carry a VHF radio to sea to take advantage of the communication system we are installing now. In addition, all captains will be required to be trained in safety at sea, including CPR courses and as part of their boat handling course develop navigational skills.

Ladies and gentlemen, these are not onerous or expensive requirements and if we save one life by instituting these measures, then it will be worth it. The Ministry, also plans to engage the Met Office and one of our phone companies to develop a toll free system whereby the fisherman at any time can call and get up to date and forecasted weather information, tidal information, sea warnings etc, that will aid them in making an appropriate decision whether or not to go to sea. This is very dear to my heart because many of my constituents are fishers and I encourage all fishermen to be safe and follow the recommendations and guidelines as set out by the Fisheries Division of the Ministry.

The Lionfish Challenge

I am advised that over the past three years since we identified the lionfish as a predator to our fisheries, we have been imploring the public to eat it, so Scotia and us are at one in that regard.

We nonetheless continue to have the challenge of eliminating this invasive species from our shores and Jamaica like many countries in the region (Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago, Anguilla) to name a few, is continuing to monitor the spread of the lionfish. This monitoring is being conducted by a National Steering Committee which includes the Centre for Marine Sciences at the University of the West Indies, the Fisheries Division, the National Environment and Planning Agency and other key stakeholders. It is believed that the lionfish population is rapidly increasing.  This increase in lionfish numbers does not bode well for our coral reef fishery resources and the ecological well-being of the ecosystems, as the lionfish is preying on our fish stock.

The National Steering Committee will continue to work with all stakeholders to overcome the challenges in controlling the lionfish invasion.In the meantime however, there are a number of challenges impeding thecontrol of lionfish in Jamaica. I will list a few:

Public awareness: more people are aware of the presence of the lionfish in Jamaican waters, however, not enough is known about its impact on the marine environment and the fisheries resources as scientific research and data are either unavailable or limited.

Stakeholderbuy-in: individuals who are aware of the lionfish are still apprehensive about consuming and/or handling the lionfish for various reasons including -

(1) Personal bias against consumption of the fish by virtue of its odd appearance;

(2) or they are recipients of misinformation, the most popular being that the fish is poisonous. This is not so! What IS TRUE is that the dorsal spines carry venomwhich is easily neutralized by application of heat….in other words, once the fish fry, even if there was venom present, it would be neutralized and safe for consumption.  As a matter of fact, there are a growing number of small restaurants where the lionfish is the main attraction because it is known for its “back-building/stamina” properties!

Distinguished Ladies and gentlemen, we have our work cut out for us. In moving forward, there are a few immediate things we can do. First, let’s take out our knives and forks and begin to eat our way out of the problem, and encourage more hotels and restaurants to offer the lionfish as another source of protein on their menu’s.