Caribbean fishers chart a course for marine conservation

CUMANÁ, Venezuela, October 30, 2009 – Next week will mark a historic moment for regional fisheries as fishers from throughout the English, Spanish and French-speaking Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico join scientists and researchers to find common solutions for some of the most vexing issues facing the fisheries of the Wider Caribbean.  

This first gathering of its kind will occur when the Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI) hosts the first Gladding Memorial Award (GMA) Regional Fishers Summit as a major component of the 62nd GCFI conference slated for Cumaná, Venezuela from November 2nd to 6th.

Organisers of the regional summit have expressed alarm at the significant declines of the quantities of fish available for harvest due to overfishing, climate change, and environmental degradation, even as a growing global population pushes up the demand for food from the sea.

They hope that the summit will lay the groundwork for fisherfolk to have a direct role in the decision-making and implementation of regional strategies for marine resource use.

“Fishers must be engaged and empowered to be part of the process of managing marine resources,” stressed GCFI Executive Director Bob Glazer. 

The initiative has received strong support from the Caribbean Network of Fisherfolk Organisations (CNFO).

“Fisheries management without our input has failed. The Fishers Summit is an initiative that will ultimately lead to more sustainable fishery resources and livelihoods, and more success stories in the Caribbean,” said Antiguan fisher Mitchell Lay, who is also the coordinator of the CNFO. 

Lay joined fishers who were past GMA recipients to develop the topics for the summit during an intensive three-day planning meeting held in Miami in May.

Together they identified key issues in fisheries management, fisher-researcher interactions, climate change, and the future direction of the fishing industry that would form the basis for discussions in November.

Glazer praises their efforts, saying, “These fishers have demonstrated a lifelong commitment to achieving sustainability and this meeting represented the first step towards scaling up their success to the entire region.”  

The GMA, one of the highest honors in marine conservation for fishers, is named in honour of Peter Gladding, a patriarch fisherman from the Florida Keys who was instrumental in the protection of the Dry Tortugas and its designation as an Ecological Reserve.

The award is given only to fishers who have been role models through practically demonstrating a long-term vision for the sustainable use and conservation of marine resources.

To date, 10 fishers from Barbados, Belize, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Mexico, the United States and Venezuela have been past recipients.