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National parrotfish forum is timely

Friday, April 13, 2018

The national forum on parrotfish management set for next Thursday in Ocho Rios could not come at a more opportune time. For, based on the views expressed by fish vendors and fishermen in an article published in this week's Sunday Observer, there remains some amount of misunderstanding about the environmental lobby's intentions to preserve the parrotfish.

It was clear from the article that the people who make a living from fishing are of the view that environmental groups are proposing a ban on the harvesting, sale and consumption of parrotfish.

Indeed, one fisherman, Mr Ricardo Weetom, with whom the Sunday Observer spoke at New Forum Fishing Village, was adamant that he could not “support that ban if it should come into effect”.

However, what we found instructive in Mr Weetom's comments was his acknowledgement that the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) as well as environmental groups have had conversations with some fisherfolk, including himself, about the need to preserve the parrotfish.

Those conversations would naturally include an explanation that what NEPA and the environmental groups are proposing was not a ban, but management systems that would help in protecting the fish, given the contribution it makes to preserving Jamaica's marine environment.

That point was made very clear by Dr Andre Kong, director of fisheries in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, who explained to the newspaper that there was no promotion for a ban.

“There has to be a far more comprehensive approach. We are looking at fish sanctuaries, no-fishing zones, regulation for protecting the large fish, gear regulation, among other things. An outright ban is not the answer as it will create social and economic problems for the most marginalised — fishermen,” Dr Kong said.

He stressed that preservation of the parrotfish did not rely on harvesting only, as pollution, development on the coastline, emissions, and warm sea temperatures, among other things, had an impact on the species.

Parrotfish, we are told, feed on seaweed from coral reefs and grind it as part of the digestion process before defecating it in the form of sand. In the process of eating the algae off the corals, the fish are effectively cleaning the reef, resulting in the white sand beaches that adorn most of the island's coasts.

Just one parrotfish, we have learnt, can produce up to 220 pounds of sand every year.

But the people who make a living from fishing have raised a very important point — that consumer demand for parrotfish is contributing to the lack of preservation.

That reality, we suggest, needs to be taken into account during next week's conference where fisherfolk from across the island, researchers, representatives of environmental groups, non-governmental organisations, and private and public organisations are scheduled to discuss this important issue and, as the organisers said, “generate sustainable solutions to tackle the challenges facing the parrotfish population”.

We agree with the view advanced by some, including fish vendors, that a closed season — much like that which obtains for lobster and conch — could help in this effort to preserve the parrotfish.

Here's hoping that the discussions will be fruitful and will result in policies that are beneficial to all sides in this debate.