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Jamaica's lobster stock in danger - Top marine biologist suggests extension of close season

Published:Monday | January 13, 2014 | 12:00 AM
A fisherman shows off a female lobster with a tar spot, which indicates that it has mated and will soon lay eggs.

Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer

Renowned marine scientist Dr Karl Aiken has advised the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries that he will be pressing for a one-month extension of the three-month close season for lobster which runs from April 1 to June 30 each year.

"There is a lot of pressure on the lobster resources of the country, especially the stock that we used to have on Pedro Banks which is now much smaller. It's not about to disappear overnight, but it needs some help," he shared with The Gleaner last Tuesday.

The notice given by Aiken comes against the background of a recent proposal made by acting chief executive officer in the fisheries ministry, Andre Kong, for an extension of the 21-day grace period, which would allow persons selling lobsters more time to dispose of their stock after the season closes.

Under the law, no person shall - (a) catch and bring ashore or destroy any berried lobster; (b) catch and bring ashore, or destroy, any spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) or carapace (head) length of less than 7.62 centimetres (three inches).

Better conservation

But Aiken, a senior lecturer in the Department of Life Sciences, UWI Mona wants the minimum carapace length increased to nine centimeters, which he believes could make a big difference for the future of Jamaica's lobster industry.

Approving this increase in the minimum size could protect between 55 and 60 per cent of the spawning stock, compared to the 30-40 per cent it is estimated that the current size shelters.

"The industry will die in a few years if we keep this small present size," Aiken warned.

A recently concluded extensive five-and-a-half month study of the industrial offshore Pedro Banks lobster fishery done on behalf of the Fisheries Advisory Board is now in the hands of Kong.

Though he was not at liberty to share details, Dr Aiken offered some insight into his findings.

"While we've been concentrating on conch, the lobster resource has been languishing, and is taking a bit of a battering. It's not extinct, but it is not in as good shape as we thought. It needs some help, and we're hoping that Mr Kong, with the meagre resources he has, will be able to help us with the implementation of the size increase as well as extension of the close season."