Department of Environment officials this week brought their proposals for an enhanced system of marine parks to West Bay, where they received a less-than-enthusiastic response from fishermen.
The audience of mostly fishermen, numbering about 10, expressed some frustration with the proposals on Tuesday, during the first in a series of public meetings as part of the public consultation process on the proposals.
“Yes, we have to protect what we have, but we also have to remember that the population still has to live,” said Capt. Eugene Ebanks, MLA from West Bay.
Mr. Ebanks and others in the audience were concerned that the proposals designate much of the area around Barkers as a marine reserve, where fishing will be prohibited. The area is good for sprat fishing, according to many of the fishermen at the meeting.
“I’m very much in favor of conservation, but I certainly don’t think that you can possibly penalize the guys that fish to live and live to fish in that kind of way,” Mr. Ebanks said. “Where else are they going to go and catch sprat?”
Other audience members noted that the current marine parks laws are fine and are ineffective only because of a lack of enforcement.
Department of Environment Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie, who explained the new proposals and the research and reasoning that informed them, said, “Marine parks have been and will continue to be our best tool to ensure that we address the threats to our marine resources. After three years of targeted studies we know what needs to be done and that it needs to be done soon.”
Ms. Ebanks-Petrie said international research has shown that in order to successfully protect the marine environment of an area, 40 percent to 50 percent of each type of marine habitat needs to be designated as a “no-take” zone, where fishing is prohibited year-round.
Currently, only 15 percent of Cayman Islands marine parks are “no-take zones.”
The proposals for a new system of marine parks will increase those zones, so that about 50 percent of the habitats are “no-take,” Ms. Ebanks-Petrie said.
She added that temporary closures of zones that normally permit fishing should be implemented during spawning periods to “complement the way reserves work.”
“We have this very fragile, finite area that we’re trying to manage so that all of us have access to these resources in a sustainable way,” Ms. Ebanks-Petrie said.
She added that the enhanced system of marine parks will have both biological and economic benefits. “No-take” reserves will ensure that there are more fish of a greater diversity and size and healthier corals, and they will act as reservoirs of fish and spill into areas which are fishing zones, Ms. Ebanks-Petrie said.
In addition, the proposals include several additional “no-dive” zones, as well as other changes to marine parks rules. Under the new rules, line fishing from shore would be prohibited until a depth of 150 feet and taking fry and sprat with a cast net would be prohibited.
Environment Minister Wayne Panton said the National Conservation Law is designed to make sure that proposals like this involve the public’s input and that the process is “one we must all participate in” as it “reflects our aspirations for the country.”
“This is something that I hope going forward we will have a positive perspective on,” Mr. Panton said. “I hope that 30 years from now, we will be able to look back and say ‘Yes, that process was worthwhile and it delivered good results for the country.’”
The public consultation period for the proposals ends on Dec. 4.
More public meetings
The public has three more opportunities to learn about the marine park proposals at district meetings: Sept. 21 at the East End Civic Centre at 8 p.m.; Sept. 23 at the Bodden Town school hall at 7 p.m.; a Sept. 24 at the North Side Civic Centre at 8 p.m.
The public is invited to visit the Department of the Environment to look over the proposals and maps during the public consultation period. The National Conservation Council requires that public feedback be submitted in writing. Submissions can be sent to [email protected]