The Antigua and Barbuda Fisheries Regulations became law on February 1st, 2013. The regulations are comprehensive, covering the registration, construction, certification and inspection of local fishing vessels, oversight of foreign fishing vessels, local fishing licenses, local commercial fishers, artificial reefs and fish aggregating devices,and detailed fisheries conservation measures.
Conservation measures, as laid out in the regulations, cover the protection of lobsters, marine turtles and conch, in addition to other marine animals such as parrotfish, coral, cockles, whelk and sea eggs. Closed seasons have been introduced to protect these animals in their breeding season, and there is also legislation to protect immature animals that have not yet grown to full size.
The lobster closed season starts on May 1 and runs until June 30 each year. During this period fisherfolk are not allowed to catch, sell, buy or keep any Caribbean spiny lobster. At other times of the year undersize lobsters, or lobsters with a body length of less than 3 ¾ inches, or weighing less than 1 ½ pounds must be thrown back into the sea undamaged.
The closed season for conch, and in particular, for queen conch, which is considered to be an internationally endangered species, runs from July 1 to August 31 each year. The regulations also cover the protection of immature conch (with a shell under 7 inches in size) at all other times of the year and these may not be harvested.
The implications of these regulations for hoteliers, restaurateurs and myriad local eateries in Antigua and Barbuda are obvious. Lobster and conch are removed from the menu for the duration of their closed season. A spokesman for the Fisheries Department of the Ministry of Agriculture says the conservation measures for Caribbean lobster and queen conch are proving effective, and that while some warnings have been issued no penalties have had to be applied.
We must congratulate and thank our hardworking fisher folk and chefs for complying with the new regulations. Both must be creative about finding other seafood dishes to tempt their patrons during closed seasons, but it appears that both the suppliers and the purchasers of these protected marine animals have accepted the premise that future stocks of lobster and conch can only be ensured by responsible fishing today.