Marine Conservation Board stripped of autonomy

Legislators are about to clip the power of the Marine Conservation Board to autonomously amend marine laws and regulations in the Cayman Islands. 

During a debate Friday, 15 March, on amendments to the Marine Conservation Law that would provide greater protection to stingrays and other ray species and change the term limit for members of the Marine Conservation Board, Environment Minister Mark Scotland said a further amendment would be made to ensure that future changes to the marine laws and regulations would have to go through Cabinet rather than be passed unilaterally by the board. 

“Certain sections of the law allow the board to publish and gazette and to suspend or change certain sections of the law on their own,” Mr. Scotland said. “This seems to be an anomaly as far as a government-appointed board and probably one of the only boards outside of Cabinet that has the ability to gazette its own directives.”  

He said that, based on discussion with all members of the Legislative Assembly, a committee stage amendment to the Marine Conservation Law had been drafted that would require any changes to the Marine Conservation Law to require approval of Cabinet.  

A number of legislators had brought up concerns about the power of the Marine Conservation Board to amend legislation and regulations concerning marine conservation without prior approval from government. 

Speaking about the Marine Conservation Board, West Bay representative McKeeva Bush told his fellow lawmakers: “They have been pushy at times and have flexed their muscles at times like they are the legislators, but they are board members … they sit there and do the work and try to protect our marine environment … They cannot make policy – they can’t. They can’t make laws. They should recommend and this House carry out policy.  

“But we go too far when a board seems to take legislation in their hands and while I congratulate and thank them and are appreciative of what they do, that aspect of the law needs to be changed.” 


Spear guns  

Legislators also called for changes to the law on spear gun fishing, saying spear fishing was part of the heritage of the Cayman Islands and the existing law is too restrictive. 

At the moment, anyone who owns a spear gun needs a licence from the Marine Conservation Board, but no one is allowed to import a spear gun or parts for a spear gun.  

“I should be able to teach my daughter spear fishing,” said North Side lawmaker Ezzard Miller.  

He said he had a spear gun, for which he’d had a licence, but once the rubbers wore out, under the existing law, he could not replace them so did not renew his licence.  

“The law is ridiculous, it’s stupid,” he said. “The law needs to be changed. If you have a licence to use a spear gun, you should be able to get parts for the spear gun … We have all these people who have licences for spear guns, who can’t get parts for it because the way the law is written, their intention was to stop spear fishing in Cayman. And if you couldn’t get parts for the spear gun, you wouldn’t be able to use it. But people are jerry-rigging the spear guns and continuing to use them, and it’s an accident waiting to happen.” 

Mr. Miller said that the law should be changed to allow people to get a new spear gun or parts, but that there should be strict restrictions about the kinds of catch and who can get a licence. 

Addressing the calls for changes to the spear fishing regulations, Mr. Scotland said the law strictly limiting possession of spear guns in Cayman had been put in place to protect marine life from the “1 or 2 per cent of persons who would be lawbreakers”.  

He added: “It certainly inhibits and negatively affects those persons who would be law-abiding citizens and those who would want to have spear guns … I do understand the need to pass that heritage on, but we want … there to be a balance struck where we do have the protection afforded, but we do also have the ability and opportunity for persons [to obtain spear gun licences], similar to how there is a procedure for licensing firearms. Possibly we can look at a similar procedure for spear gun licences.” 


Ray protection  

The amendments, which passed a second reading Friday, make it illegal to take stingrays, manta rays and eagle rays from any area of Cayman waters. At the moment, Wildlife Interaction Zones at Stingray City and the Sandbar in the North Sound are the only sites from where it is illegal to remove rays. 

George Town representative Kurt Tibbetts called on the government to consider adding other species of rays to the new list of rays protected under the amendments. 

Minister Scotland responded that certain rays, such as yellow rays, were not included in the new protected list because they were not considered to need extra protection and the rays that were listed were the ones most frequently found in the areas where tourists visit. He pointed out that rays at the Sandbar were worth millions in tourist dollars over their lifetime. However, he added that adding more species of rays to the list may be considered in the future. 

The amendments to the Marine Conservation Law were passed unanimously and will go to committee stage and undergo a third and final reading probably on Friday when the House resumes. All business before the Legislative Assembly must be concluded by Tuesday, 26 March, when Cayman Islands Governor Duncan Taylor is scheduled to dissolve the parliament prior to Nomination Day on 27 March for the May general election. 


Signs posting marine regulations are located throughout Grand Cayman, including this one near the Frank Sound ramp dock. – Photo: Jeff Brammer


  1. It is regrettable that the politicians want to reassert control over the only Board that seems to be working to effectively follow their mandate.
    No doubt with political wisdom we would have lost the grouper spawning sites already and still may do so. I heard a politican’s debate on the radio where he was in favor of opening grouper fishing spawning sites with catch limits, obviously a pandering move toward voters. His knowledge was based upon the old days and talking to fisherman voters.
    This is a sad day for the marine environment.

  2. It is about time, boards should be made up of experts to make recommendations to government, not make laws.
    Marine parks observation, another job for the park rangers. Caymanians should be able to do that, we hardly need someone from South Africa to count a catch of conch. further, the main objectives of foreigner working under government contract should be to train an understudy Caymanian to do the work outlined in their job description. With a process of appraisals and reported recommendations for classroom work. Value for money is to train a man to fish. The Business staffing plan must be over watched by a strong mindful legislator, with resources and the will necessary to insure compliance.

  3. I must support Mr Miller’s views on the licencing and who should obtain spearguns. Yes this is a heritage of our islands, and one which was carefully used by our seamen.
    Since a few years back, I have seen many men who are not Caymanians using spearguns to hunt Lobsters, especially at nights with a head lamp. I do not know if these men have a licence but I very well doubt it.
    Yes I believe that, concerning these Marine Laws and regulations/decisions, they should be approved by cabinet, and not by a board.
    In the first place I thought it was utter stupidness to have a speargun licence but cannot get parts for it. Of course this only effected our island fishermen. The Marine law should show strong teeth of enforcement of these laws, because our beaches and iron shores are being stripped of the very things that make up our culture.

  4. By the very nature of Marine Conversation, it is a long term view with a future generation timescale rather than pandering to the ephemeral whims of each new government.

    And NO, Mr Miller should not be able to teach his daughter spearfishing, if anything, courses should be taught by a marine conservation specialist instructor with a syllabus which emphasises safety, conservation and heritage.

    Given the timing, seems like another attempt at Vote Buying.

  5. Removing powers from the Board and giving them to Cabinet is like jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

    Changes to the Marine Conservation Law should be made by the whole House in open debate. That way we can hold each of our legislators accountable.

  6. I disagree with the assessment of 1 or 2 percent of persons who would be lawbreakers. From my forty-five years experience scuba diving and years of spear fishing in the US and Bahamas, I would estimate that about half the people who have spearguns in their hands would spear unnecessarily – not so much that they intend to be lawbreakers but they are impulsive and have a spear gun in their hands and want to spear something. When I spearfished, it was with a Hawaiian sling and was either to take lobster legally in season to eat and freeze for future meals or it was to take one or two fish for that day’s meals. I always personally cooked and served as food anything I took. But many people spearfished recreationally without regard to needing food for the table. I’d welcome easing up on the laws so that my husband and I could spear fresh fish for our dinner but I think the laws should remain strict to prevent wide and willful plundering of Cayman reef fish.

  7. Sonic 8.48 I do not agree with you in saying that Mr Miller should not teach his daughter to spearfish. I do not know if you are a Caymanian, but I hope not, because everything we learned, we learned from our parents, and it did not matter whether we were boy or girl, they taught us. They taught us to swim,and use the speargun, catch fish, hunt rabbits and birds to eat, they taught us to plant yam cassava and potatoes, they taught us to sew clothes, crochet and keep house. It was our Cayman tradition. So I do not agree with you saying that Mr Miller should not teach his daughter to spear fish. Who would be a better person; or is it that you prefer a MARINE CONSERVATIONIST SPECIALIST INSTRUCTOR WITH A SYLLABUS that will require a work permit with the Government having to pay out thousands of dollars. FOR WHAT? Mr Sonic, please cut it out, because we are tired of Government having to pay specialist for this and specialist for that, with these big words which can do no better than our own Country men. In fact we have to teach the specialist what to do. NO !!

  8. This is a horrendous decision. One of the few remaining institutions that bases its decisions on SCIENCE is being made toothless to the whims of politicians who will simply bow to whichever money-related project they happen to like or dislike. Spearguns are really a side issue. We now have no independent scientific assessment of ecological problems and concerns in Cayman. In fact, we basically have no laws protecting the environment – certainly no terrestrial ones. The Conservation Law has been stymied for 13 years by real estate interests that have nothing to do with bio-diversity (assuming they can spell the word!). Now we can expect the same to happen on the marine side of things.

  9. Hunter: We are outnumbered on this blog, but not at the polls, at least not for now. When you speak of
    empowering Caymanians to run their own country affairs, many take it as a threat. Most speak of being inclusive, but what they really mean is to include them until they have the power to exclude you.

    Advanced weaponry is always used to repress indigenous people, where with technology the Romans of old now digitize their thumbs down for a kill.

  10. To caymanian-on-guard hunter there were in times past grouper spawning sites around Grand Cayman Island that were fished out and no longer exist. They were not fished out by foreigners.
    The fishermen that fished the spawning sites that led to the fishing ban who left 100 pounds of fish eggs to rot on the dock were not foreigners.
    Thank goodness for the wise Caymanians of the DoE who understand the reality of this finite marine asset.

  11. Panama-jack, you state the obvious. Conservation of marine life is important, and protecting the groupers during spawning essential. But to add to your argument and graphic descriptive, of course you believe caviar is harvested from a male, or after the female has released its eggs in the sea right.

    Your reverse psychology in your point to the few Caymanians at the environmental department is good though.

  12. @Hunter

    There was a story on Monday – Dramatic rescue at sea recalled

    While the result was good in terms of averting a tradgic loss of a young life, it also would have been a NON STORY had ANYONE on board been trained by a professional.

    Read the story – The problem was no-one recognised the warning signs or took action after the initial blackout and the casualty had been allowed to continue diving.

    Any Scuba Professional, can teach a SAFE skin diving course showing proper techniques for equalisation, hyperventilation and avoiding and recognising problems like shallow water blackout.

    Simply being able to do something does not mean that person is a good teacher.

    My Father tried to teach me to drive – was not a good experience for either of us – while his driving skills were fine, his teaching skills were not. I paid a qualified driving instructor and got some awesome quality tuition from a semi-retired guy who’d previously spent 2 decades teaching advanced and high speed driving techniques to police officers – worth every penny I spent and I credit my exemplary driving record on the quality of that tuition.

    Furthermore @Hunter, why do you immediately assume that the marine conservation appointed instructor will be an ex-pat, do you have so little faith in your fellow Caymanians!

    The course should be taught by a proficient spearfisherman (or woman) with good teaching skills, a formal course outline will ensure that nothing is missed for example catch limits will change, some species and locations are no take, there are dangers and new hazards like lionfish which were not even an issue a decade ago, and such a structure would ensure that focus was also given to issues like sustainability and preventing damage to the Ecosystem, without which a right to take fish will be of little use once the reefs are compromised and the fish no longer exist.

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