Fishermen in Cayman Brac have objected to proposals by the Cayman Islands Department of Environment to expand marine parks.
In a news conference last week, officials from the Department of Environment described a public meeting held in Cayman Brac in October as part of a public consultation exercise as a “difficult” one and revealed that following the meeting local fishermen handed them a petition opposing the introduction of expanded “no-take zones” around the island.
The petition was from “a number of Brac residents saying they didn’t want to see any changes in marine parks”, said Director of Environment Gina Ebanks-Petrie.
“The Brac unfortunately has not been the recipient of really well designed marine parks in the first place,” she said.
During several public meetings in all districts last year, the Department of Environment presented findings that showed that the no-take marine parks, which were introduced 26 years ago, were working well in Grand Cayman and the fellow Sister Island of Little Cayman, but had not been a success in Cayman Brac.
“We believe some of the … skewed results we see from the Brac stem from the fact that the marine parks were not big enough in the first place or well planned enough to deal with the issues we were trying to manage back in 1986,” Ms Ebanks-Petrie said.
Despite opposition from some of the attendees and the petition, the environment director said based on the feedback from the meeting, two-thirds of those who attended were in favour of the proposals. She said she hoped that those who did support the expansion of the marine parks would make their views known to their local representatives “so there can be a counter to the petition put forward”.
The Department of Environment has pointed out that the Brac has the highest fishing pressure and the smallest sea shelf – the area from the reef to the drop-off – of the three of the Cayman Islands.
Fishermen in Cayman Brac say their livelihoods will be affected if the areas in which they are allowed to fish is decreased.
The environment department held public meetings in each district between mid-October and early December.
Cayman Brac was not the only district in which the proposals met opposition or questioning – there was also push back from fishermen in East End, North Side and West Bay. At the West Bay meeting, the then-Premier McKeeva Bush told the department that he would not support expanding the marine parks.
The proposals are still being worked on, as the project team considers alternative suggestions that have come in from people in various districts.
The department expects the proposals to be finalised by early February, at which point they will be handed to the Ministry of Environment and then go to Cabinet for consideration.
Ms Ebanks-Petrie said all feedback had been taken into account and some of the original proposals had been revisited and amended, based on responses from the public to some of the proposals.
“We hope that every member of the public has had the opportunity in some way to engage with us in responding to the proposals,” she said.
While some fishermen have complained that the expansion of the marine parks will erode the Caymanian tradition of fishing, the department has been at pains to point out that if overfishing depletes the coral reefs of fish, it will be extremely detrimental to the future of the local fishing and tourism industries.
Croy McCoy, senior research officer at the Department of Environment, said that ensuring areas of the reef are not overfished, thus allowing the fish population to replenish itself, will ultimately mean that there will be more fish in those areas from which fishermen are allowed to take marine life.
Protecting the marine reserves ensures a stable growing population of fish that will spill over into adjacent areas, he said, adding: “In simple terms, the marine reserves are money in the bank; you live off the interest, which is the spillover to the adjacent areas. It ensures the population of the Cayman Islands can continue to fish and ensure the tradition continues and the Caymanian way of life.”
The department ran a wide-ranging education campaign to present the proposals. As well as the public meetings, it also launched a social media campaign, held meetings with any organisation or individual who asked for them, and invited the public to visit the department’s office to view the proposals.
“We’re very encouraged by the feedback so far,” said Ms Ebanks-Petrie, adding that almost two thirds of the forms filled out by individuals at the meetings and presentations by the department were supportive of the proposals.
The review of Cayman’s marine parks was conducted in association with Bangor University in the United Kingdom and The Nature Conservancy.
John Turner, senior lecturer at Bangor University’s School of Ocean Sciences, said the proposals to expand the marine parks was based on “strong scientific principles” and fieldwork of the Department of Environment and the project team over the past three years.
“We have a lot of data on which to formulate the plans for marine protected areas. This data has been discussed and presented at district meetings. We now are combining that data with the views of public to ensure we get a system that is going to be sustainable,” Mr. Turner said.
Fellow project partner James Byrne, a marine science project manager at The Nature Conservancy, said the key element to ensuring marine parks were successful was striking a balance between ecological and social needs.
The extension of protected marine areas, from which no marine life can be removed dead or alive, includes implementing no-take rules from the shore to 200 feet of water, from the current depth of 80 feet, within designated areas.