Fish Stock in Healthy State, Ready for Cautious Growth

The fish stock in Statian waters is in good shape, with the lobster, reef fish and conch populations all in a healthy state, according to the latest research. Based on a ten-year study up to 2020, preliminary trends suggest an increase, followed by stability, in the lobster population, researchers from the Wageningen Marine Research (WMR) in the Netherlands told Statian fishersmen at a meeting last week convened by the Agriculture and Veterinary Services Unit of the Directorate of Economics, Nature, and Infrastructure

The study also revealed that reef fish populations show no evidence of overharvesting and the conch population remains high, with an assessment indicating that controlled, limited export is sustainable. However, the most promising areas for expansion are in open sea species such as tuna, wahoo, and mahi-mahi, WMR researchers Owen Clements and Dr. Dolfi Debrot told the local fishers.

Despite their known seasonal abundance, little is currently known about these species, making this a valuable area of research to pursue, the researchers said, adding that data collection on catches is crucial for sound, science-based policy development. Therefore, WMR emphasized the urgent need for the Statia government to appoint a new data monitoring officer for fisheries catch monitoring. This critical role, funded by the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality, has been vacant for a year, leading to a complete disruption of data collection.

In support of sustainable fisheries policy development, the ministry in The Hague has been providing structural funding for applied fisheries research in the Caribbean Netherlands since 2010, and this year it increased its funding of the fisheries research, which is spearheaded by WMR.

At last week’s meeting, the fishermen, who are in the process of forming an association, raised the need for better enforcement of coastal ship channel usage, explaining that transport vessels veering off these channels often sever trap lines with their propellers, causing fishermen to lose their traps. In addition to the financial cost to the fishers, this also poses a lingering threat to fish which the lost traps continue to kill for a long time. The fishermen also proposed installing biodegradable panels on traps to allow fish to escape from unrecovered traps. Moreover, they voiced a need for improved local marketing since, currently, access to locally-caught fresh fish is limited and complicated. They are planning to establish a centralised location to allow for easy daily purchase of fresh fish by the public who currently buy frozen imported fish instead of local fish.

The Agriculture and Veterinary Services Unit agreed to address these issues collaboratively with the fishermen's association, with both the unit and WMR pledging closer cooperation with fishermen on various fisheries research and management topics.