Seeking to preserve a Caymanian tradition without destroying the islands’ marine environment, the National Conservation Council has proposed a compromise over spearfishing.
The number of people licensed to hunt with spearguns on Cayman’s reefs could be increased if a new system of marine parks is put in place, the council recommends in a new policy proposal sent to Cabinet for approval.
The council has been tasked with implementing legislation, introduced through an amendment to the National Conservation Law, to allow spearfishing for “traditional or cultural needs.” The amendment reversed a previous policy of phasing out the activity in Cayman.
Under the new system, the 170 fishermen currently licensed to use spearguns will be allowed to import new parts and replace their equipment.
The council’s initial recommendation is that spearfishing remain limited to those 170 people.
But it has indicated this number could be increased to 300, if expanded marine parks, dramatically increasing the size of no-fishing zones in Cayman, are introduced, to offset some of the negative impact this increase would have on marine life.
The document also recommends changes to customs and enforcement policy to reflect the fact that it is now legal to import spearguns under certain conditions.
In its document, the council expresses some reservations about the move.
“This new provision which was proposed at the committee stage of the National Conservation Bill, once enacted by the Legislature, reflected a change in Government policy towards spearguns,” it notes.
“Previous Government policy was to phase out spearfishing through natural attrition, in order to promote other forms of marine resource use. Spearfishing, because of its ability to target large, reproductively important individuals, is far more detrimental than other forms of recreational fishing.”
With Cayman’s reefs already facing varied threats from overfishing and invasive species to coral disease and climate change, the council indicates it cannot recommend any additional spearfishing licenses until new marine parks legislation is implemented.
It suggests expanded marine parks, increasing no-take zones from 14 to 40 percent of Cayman’s marine shelf, as it has recommended, would help increase fish stocks and the health of reef populations.
“An enhanced system of marine protected areas may be able to support a proportional increase in the number of spearfishers,” it suggests, recommending a steady annual increase of licenses to a maximum of 300.
It notes that this will not be possible, however, without expanded marine parks.
“Until the proposals for the enhanced marine parks have been enacted, any enlargement of the pool of potential speargun licensees within the Cayman Islands will only increase the need for other more restrictive management in the immediate future.”