The red gold rush: Lobster fishing in Central America
From an assignment for the 2016 WWF global campaign.
Lobster fishery represents a multimillion dollar business. With an average of 37,000 tons of lobster fished every year and an estimated value of US$500 million, it provides a livelihood for approximately 250,000 people along the Mesoamerican reef, including artisanal and commercial fishermen and all the people involved in the process until the lobster reach the buying countries. (FAO 2013). It is one of the largest and most important fishery in Central America and Caribbean and most of it is consumed in the United States. According to the C/A Center for Marine Studies, Honduras alone exports over $40 million worth of lobster just to the U.S. market every year. However, working conditions are very hard and some times dangerous for both trap boat fisherman who spend eight months at sea. They endure hard living and working conditions, especially scuba diver fishermen who risk their life daily for the amount of dives. Spiny lobster has been overfished in the past without any control and regulation. WWF has been working for years with the Caribbean countries involved in lobster fishing to obtain a more responsible fishery, in line with the growing demand on the market. Finally, in 2009, Central American waters introduced a four month ban on lobster fishing during the reproductive season. This ban responds to the Fisheries and Aquaculture Integration Policy and the ordinance OSP-02-09 for the “Regional Regulation of Caribbean Lobster Fishing, issued by the organization for Central American Fisheries and Aquaculture Sector (OSPESCA) and signed by the governments on May 21, 2009, and It is still valid. Along with the ban a new set of rules were introduced, like lobster traps with an escape opening for juveniles, the return of female carrying eggs back in the water, a minimum lobster size and the prohibition on lobster diving. There are two different commercial ways to fish lobsters. One is with traps the other one is using scuba divers. Scuba diving methods for fishing lobster are very dangerous, It is probably the most dangerous job in the world, the intensive diving can cause decompression sickness with paralysis and in many cases even death. Despite new law and the threat of stopping buying lobster from the U.S, it is a matter of fact that in some countries like Honduras and Nicaragua scuba diving lobster fishing is still allowed, because of the high revenue.