Rampant breaches continue at Negril Marine Park
Claudia Gardner, Hospitality Jamaica Writer
Despite the existence of laws prohibiting the catching of fish and other sea creatures in the Negril Marine Park, community members say there continues to be rampant breaches taking place in the resort town's coastal waters.
During the last meeting of the Negril Resort Board recently, some residents complained that fishermen were carrying on the illegal activities, while eluding the marine police.
"There are people out there dropping pots ...," Mary Viera of Couples Negril, told the meeting. "Everyday, they are out there spearfishing; they are on the beach with the fish, with tiny fish like this," she said, demonstrating the size with her fingers.
The Negril Marine Park was declared in 1998 in a bid to protect the natural resources within the park, including, among other things, coral reefs, sea grass beds, mangrove communities and commercially important fish. The park's boundaries cover a total of 160 kilometres and extends from Davis Cove in Hanover to St John's Point in Westmoreland.
Hotelier Diane Ennevor said the situation was the same along the West End coastline, as fishermen, some of whom travel in large boats, could also be spotted in the area hunting for fish.
"We have a problem down in the West End also, where there are several fishing boats. They come there and they throw their nets right in front of my property. Like Mary said, they pick up these little fish. They (Jamaica Constabulary Force) need to police the West End because there are problems with spear fishing everyday, and also the nets. I think the regulations say the nets have to be a certain size, but they have tiny little nets; nothing can get out," Ennevor added.
"I think they (police) need to go more routinely, because you see, it's on a Saturday that they (marine police) pass, and so on a Saturday, you don't see any of the boats because they know that that's the day they pass. So we need to do sort of impromptu on different days so that they don't know the schedule," she suggested.
According to the Ministry of Agriculture, the closed season for lobster is between April 1 and June 30. During that period each year, it is illegal to catch, buy or sell lobsters. The closed season coincides with the peak breeding period of the species and is instituted to allow the animals to mature and revive its population. It is also illegal to catch berried lobsters (with eggs) or undersized lobsters (under 3.5 inches) throughout the year.
However, according to Viera, there were men who were selling lobster on the Negril Beach during the closed season.
"There is a man on the beach everyday - sometimes there are two of them ... . One (of them) everyday he walks; he has his knife in his back pocket, and he has his cardboard box which is full of the lobster and he walks up and down (calling) "lobsta! lobsta!", and he pull out the knife cuts it squeeze the lime on it and sell it to the tourists," she said. "Courtesy cops are right there and they can arrest. They have the powers to arrest and they sit right there and do nothing."
"Even better - a spearfish guy came up on a property last week, right at West End with large lobster, sold it to the guests and the guests took it to the kitchen and asked them to cook it and the owner said, if any of her staff cooked the lobster, she would fire them and explained to the guests that they should not have bought this, it's out of season," she added.
When Hospitality Jamaica spoke to executive director of the Negril Area Environment Protection Trust (NEPT), Keisha Spencer, she said her organisation had been conducting workshops with fisherfolk within the town to make them aware of the boundaries of the park, the new zoning plan and the activities which are not allowed there. She said the last workshop was held on June 10 and that the NEPT had staged familiarisation trips for the marine police.
She said some of the spearfishing activities were being done by persons who were unaware that this activity was illegal, thus necessitating efforts at public education.