A local sustainable seafood lobby group is urging dive operators to promote restaurants that offer on their menus fish that are not at risk of being fished out of existence.
Cayman Sea Sense’s Sharon Whitmore says the seafood choices diners make have a direct impact on the ocean habitat and the species that live in it.
“By choosing sustainable seafood to eat, you are helping to preserve the diversity of fish that live and breed in our waters for your children,” she says.
Cayman Sea Sense runs a sustainable seafood education programme that helps restaurants and customers make informed and environmentally positive seafood choices.
To find out whether the restaurant you’re eating at supports the programme, check its menu for the distinctive Cayman Sea Sense icon.
How to tell the difference
Some seafood dishes are environmentally better than others, but knowing how to tell the difference can be a challenge for diners and restaurants alike.
Whitmore says Cayman Sea Sense allows diners to “confidently identify and choose restaurants that provide environmentally responsible seafood menu items, and provides restaurants with the information and support to continuously improve menus from an environmental sustainability perspective.
“While many fisheries around the world are threatened with collapse, some fisheries remain healthy and sustainable because of successful management and responsible harvesting.
This year the CSS team are hoping to collaborate more with dive operators in gaining their support in promoting local restaurants that have been endorsed by CSS.
“As diving is one of the largest industries on the island, divers see the destruction of the reef, and the loss of biodiversity this creates, and want to make positive seafood choices.
By asking dive operators to recommend Sea Sense restaurants, we can educate both tourists and local divers in making the correct seafood choices,” she says.
She adds: “We don’t want to change the way you eat, but a smart alternative choice can impact the stability of one species living in this fragile eco-system that surrounds our beautiful islands.”
Who’s eligible for the icon?
Restaurants that provide at least one sustainable seafood option on their menu and commit to make continuous improvement are eligible to put the Cayman Sea Sense icon on their menus and receive full certification once all the seafood items on their menus are sustainable.
Catherine Childs, another member of Cayman Sea Sense, says local restaurants have generally been eager to participate and to give their customers a way to make informed decisions about their seafood choices.
“In general, they’ve seen the selections that are labelled as sustainable choices ordered more often. A few of them have even seen customers take the time to thank them for participating in the programme.
“Chefs are generally eager to take part and have often been instrumental in getting the restaurant onboard,” she says.
One popular choice on many restaurant menus is grouper. Cayman Sea Sense urges diners to check what kinds of grouper are on offer to ensure that those under threat, such as the Nassau grouper, are avoided.
“A lot of divers won’t order grouper. Groupers are like dogs to them – they’re intelligent and they can be trained. Groupers are worth much more as entertainment for lots of divers than just as one meal for one diner,” she says.
Grouper – of all varieties – is on the Cayman Sea Sense ‘avoid’ list. “Restaurants list this just as ‘grouper’, so you don’t know what kind of grouper it is, so you should seek alternatives like mahi-mahi,” says Childs.
As well as the potential for choosing a grouper that is threatened, eating too much of the fish is not a good idea, the group advises, because of the risk of mercury or other contaminants in the fish.
Whitmore points out that Nassau groupers once populated the coral reefs around the Cayman Islands and the Caribbean in the thousands, but the population has dramatically declined due to overfishing, and the fish are now vulnerable to extinction.
“Over half of their 150 known spawning sites have been fished out of existence. In 2003, realising that this was probably the last chance to save local Nassau grouper populations, the Cayman Islands government passed laws to protect this species from fishing during spawning season. Groupers are slow growing and do not reach sexual maturity until they are eight years old, so it’s important that we reduce the fishing pressure on this species to allow them to reach sexual maturity and replenish their population,” she says.
A new fish that is appearing on this year’s Cayman Sea Sense recommended list is lionfish.
Divers have been killing the invasive species in a bid to cut down on the numbers encroaching on Cayman’s reefs and putting pressure on dwindling fish stocks.
“The local fish have not adapted to the presence of these fish and, as a consequence, lionfish have no natural predators. It has been shown in the Bahamas that lionfish caused significant reductions in the recruitment of native fishes by an average of 79 per cent over a five-week period.
Whilst it is clear that we will never get rid of the whole population, it is important to continue to try our best to cull the population, in order to give local fish time to recruit and adapt,” says Whitmore.
Executive director of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association Trina Christian said the association supported the Cayman Sea Sense programme and “will continue to educate our members in order to protect our reefs and endangered marine life”.
She added: “It’s critical that both the industry and consumer are educated so that they can make the smart choices when enjoying our fantastic culinary delights in the Cayman Islands.”
Whitmore said the Sea Sense campaign had also been staunchly supported by diver and photographer Cathy Church and by dive operators Divetech, Cayman island Divers, BSAC (360), Off The Wall Divers and Sea Elements.
Restaurants currently participating in the Cayman Sea Sense campaign are: Agave Grill, Breezes by the Bay, Cimboco, Cobalt Coast Resort, Full of Beans, Harvey’s Island Grill, Hungry Iguana, Luca, Michael’s Genuine, Neptune’s, Pappagallo’s Ristorante, Pirate’s Point Resort, Ragazzi, Southern Cross Club, Sunshine Grill, Wreck Bar and Grill and Westin Causuarina.