Cabinet greenlights expansion of no-fishing areas

Gina Ebanks-Petrie and Tim Austin of the Department of Environment discuss the planned expansion of Cayman's marine parks. - Photo: Ken Silva

Cayman’s no-fishing zones will be significantly expanded once Cabinet approves new regulations for the territory’s marine parks.

The Department of Environment held a press conference Monday to provide more details about Environment Minister Dwayne Seymour’s recent announcement that Cayman’s marine parks will be expanded.

According to the Department of Environment, the no-fishing areas will be expanded from 15 percent to 44 percent of the coastal waters near Grand Cayman, from 14 percent to 43 percent of the Brac’s coastal waters, and from 10 percent to 57 percent of the coastal waters off Little Cayman. In total, the national average will be increased from 14 percent to 48 percent of all the territorial coastal waters.

Currently, Grand Cayman’s no-fishing zones are primarily located off of Seven Mile Beach, as well as near Rum Point.

No-dive zones will also be significantly expanded – and implemented for the first time on the Sister Islands – but the Department of Environment did not release exact figures before this article’s press deadline.

Department of Environment marine research officer Croy McCoy said the expansion of marine parks is necessary in part because of the population more than doubling from 25,000 since 1986, when marine parks were first introduced. A mobile app has been created to help boaters see where they are in the territorial waters, and what regulations and rules may apply to them in those areas, McCoy added. That app can be found at www.doe.ky.

It could be a while before the new rules take effect. The Department of Environment clarified that Minister Seymour’s announcement last week followed the Cabinet’s approval for the marine-park regulations to be amended. The new regulations still have to be drafted and approved by Cabinet, and a timeline for that has not been provided.

Getting to this point has been a roughly eight-year process, which started in 2011 when the Department of Environment started planning and consulting with the public on expanding the marine parks.

In 2015, the department brought its plan to West Bay, where they received a less-than-enthusiastic response from fishermen.

“Yes, we have to protect what we have, but we also have to remember that the population still has to live,” Capt. Eugene Ebanks, MLA from West Bay, said at the time. “I’m very much in favour of conservation, but I certainly don’t think that you can possibly penalise the guys that fish to live and live to fish in that kind of way. Where else are they going to go and catch sprat?”

In February 2016, the Department of Environment presented a revised plan that shifted some of the no-fishing zones, particularly along the West Bay coastline, in an effort to compromise with anglers. West Bay fishermen were reportedly happier with the revised plan, which was the one presented to Cabinet.

“As the most avid fisherman on the council and the representative for West Bay, I can say that every single concern that was raised at the meetings has been addressed in an amicable fashion,” National Conservation Council member Davey Ebanks said in 2016. “Congratulations on a great job.”

Department of Environment Director Gina Ebanks-Petrie said on Monday that she does not know why it took more than three years for Cabinet to approve the marine parks plan, but “we’re just very happy that it’s happened”.

The plan also has the stamp of approval from Prince Charles, who said last week during his visit here that it was heartening to hear Minister Seymour announce the expansion of marine parks in Cayman.

Ebanks-Petrie said it was nice for her department to receive royal backing.

“It’s always a very good day when there are people other than the DoE speaking about the need to protect the environment,” she said.

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