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.”
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.”
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.