Reef fish restoration, a desperately needed next step

| 23/03/2021 | 38 Comments

Courtney Platt writes: Announced last Friday, the Marine Parks expansion is official and it is already in effect! Thank you DoE and Wayne Panton for your perseverance over the years! One MAJOR hurdle down… just a few more yet to go (assuming optimum productivity for maximum sustainable use is the goal). Hooray, our marine heritage has been saved! NO… WAIT, I said that when the first park was established in 1986, too, but it wasn’t enough and now we’re starting at a very much more deeply depressed number of the fish we love to eat.  

I’m greatly encouraged by our parks expansion, but not celebrating in the end zone yet. In football terms, let’s say we’re closing in on the goal line. The ultimate goal should include restoring the fish to optimum numbers for maximum sustainable consumption and tourism attraction. This parks expansion is a great first step in that direction.

A helpful analogy for why we should try so hard to optimize fish count is the higher annual interest earned from the bank on $10 million vs $10 thousand. As it is right now, almost no take of grouper, cubera snapper and the three biggest parrotfish is sustainable for Grand Cayman, so we shouldn’t be content to merely hope to stop our decline and sustain our current dangerously low numbers.

Like our first park, it’s still a gamble if we don’t “really go for it” right now. The goal should be restoration to historic highs as soon as possible. The higher the principle, the greater the interest earned (sustainable annual consumption). That’s when fishing will be fantastic and we’ll be the diving Mecca once again. And at least as importantly, our strategic food reserve will be maxed for the next great depression.

To get there we just need to trim out every way that we take from the reef except what Caymanians (only) need for dinner… not for sale. As both resident and tourist numbers skyrocketed, we caught and sold our tourism attraction and food reserve right out of “the aquarium”. For both tourism and fishing, we’ve turned a silk purse into a sow’s ear.

And trust me, now all of the fishermen are going to be lamenting new regulations without enhanced enforcement. To a man, they have all said to me “don’t give me any new regulations without enforcing the ones you have now”. We need to ask DoE about ways to improve enforcement, prepared to act upon it by giving them what they need to make it truly effective across all three islands, 24/7/365.  

We can all become part of that solution by using the DoE’s phone app “Siren”, which tells you where you are in the marine parks map and what is and is not legal at the time and in that spot. It helps us learn and obey the laws as well as report infractions when we see them happening. This brilliantly multiplies the eyes in the field for greatly enhanced enforcement. So, put it on your phone and help pass our heritage forward.

Any new regulations need to come from the DoE or Cabinet, but I’d recommend the next steps that could increase effectiveness and speed the restoration of our most endangered reef fish should be: a free Caymanian-ONLY fishing licence to eliminate expat and tourist take; a reasonable catch limit on the number of fish per person per day to prevent continued genocide of spawning aggregations and the sale of our severely diminished seed stock; a paid visitor and expat “hook-and-release” licence (available only with local fishing charter operators) earmarked specifically to fund enhanced law enforcement; and a marine parks visiting-diver fee earmarked to fund enhanced law enforcement.

Continuing to sell reef fish would completely strip the now smaller legal fishing zones, making a catch limit all the more necessary to leave fish for low income Caymanians who just need to catch dinner.  

Total protection of parrotfish (squab) would be especially helpful in the production of new sand and coral resilience in the face of increasing disease, storm severity and rising sea levels. Our future corals and shorelines depend upon them. Based on a 2015 Exeter University study from a geologically similar island to the Cayman Islands, our severely depressed three biggest parrotfish species once produced over 80% of all new sand here, but no longer.

Our biggest source of replacement sand for the un-assessed tons that go over the drop-off in every storm has been missing-in-action for over 40 years. Just one of these big 20-30 year old parrotfish produces approximately 1,000 pounds of sand per year. They were already greatly depressed when I arrived in 1983 and have continued to drop ever since. You have only my word (and Bob Soto’s) on their historic numbers vs today because no data exists for them here. Bob said there were schools of 40-60 at every dive site.  

That’s an awful lot more sand than we’re getting from the half dozen or less big squab that we only infrequently see now. SMB depends on their restoration, as well as a smarter CPA that listens to oceanographic engineers, the DoE and NCC regarding stilts, set-backs and sea walls. I strongly recommend total protection for all parrotfish, just as many other islands worldwide are now doing.

To our next CIG, I recommend that you do all that you can to optimize this potentially perpetually renewable resource and Caymanians, especially fishermen, will thank you for it long into the future. Taken sustainably over the long haul, we will reap infinitely greater benefits than if we squander it away in the short term.  

To voters, I recommend you pay close attention to the candidates’ position on our rapidly vanishing environment. In the meantime, we can all choose to stop catching, buying or selling reef fish if we have any other option.


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Category: Marine Environment, Science & Nature, Viewpoint

Comments (38)

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  1. Courtney Platt says:

    You must have missed my response in the 17 March Compass story from this CPR “Rascal” about the port anchorage zone as follows: By his own definition, Woods “said that, in liaison with the Department of Environment, areas that traditionally were used for anchoring were now designated solely as an anchorage zone, and areas containing large areas of coral were included in the marine park site.” the Cali ought to have been cut out as remaining within the marine park. It is a shallow artificial reef: created naturally into a national heritage site; a reef fish nursery; has been in use constantly for snorkeling and scuba shore diving; is within walking distance of the cruise landing and is therefore a very, very rare tourism attraction. What… the… heck!? This is one of the unique features that we saved from the dredge in stopping the CBF plan. Although I’ve long said that more marker buoys were needed to keep snorkelers safe from tenders approaching the landing, nobody anchors there. I have to say, that if this stands for more than a very short time, I too will become one of the many doubters who disbelieve what the current CIG is purporting to be their new position regarding the cruise port plan. This must change ASAP. In fact, the whole scheme was obviously dredged up during the CBF debacle to make it easier for them to bypass the NCL, which otherwise would have stopped the CBF plan by itself, if the port had remained within the Marine Park. Perhaps the whole zone should be reverted to the park just to prove their veracity. The gauntlet is dropped… prove that you are truly done with the cruise dock nonsense before the natives get restless again. The longer silence goes on after April 14th, the more negative “No Port” thoughts might become as anxieties will build. Is this what some call politricks?

  2. Anonymous says:

    Michael Ryan’s best efforts to just dump over 30 tons of broken up ironshore onto the marine park won’t help.

  3. SSM345 says:

    Removal of mangroves by developers might also play a part in the fish numbers see as they act as a nursery for most fish species in our waters.

  4. Anonymous says:

    Let them(the fish) eat cake. You could dump a million fish here and they would all be gone in one years time. If you want to save the fish get rid of the Caymanians.

  5. Anonymous says:

    The problem is Cayman’s fishing grounds are naturally small. They could survive a population of 5-10,000 but 75,000 is just too much. The places that are open to fishing get wiped out and the pressure moves over to the closed areas. It should be fishing for personal consumption only with limits.

  6. Annonymous says:

    Cheers Courtney, I’m an expat, I fish a lot, I keep very little. Occasionally I’ll keep a medium sized mutton, not too big, not too small. The rest goes back. When I’ve been fishing with Caymanians I’ve seen them keep everything, fish so small I wouldn’t use them as bait. The problem isn’t expat or Caymanian it’s greed.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Well done Mr. Panton. Well said Courtney. Now it is just for the government for enforcement.

  8. Anonymous says:

    When you talk about your points, please refrain any mention of expats and tourists, they are not a contributing issue here. Your island, your reef, your fish, your problem. Fix it!

  9. Anonymous says:

    Courtney, thanks for this great article. It would be very wise and certainly beneficial for a lot of your suggestions to be implemented forthwith. Perhaps I’m a naysayer but I fear that even with implementation, enforcement will remain a major issue. DoE rightly enforces conch and lobster poaching to the best of their ability (although almost always against locals it seems). But what happens to enforcing shore fishing where some “fishermen” (often non-Caymanians) take anything that they catch – regardless of species or size. Those type also scour the ironshore and remove all whelks, bleeding-teeth, periwinkles and other molluscs. Essentially, everything! But there is presently an ordinance which dictates that anyone on a work permit must have a fishing license to fish from shore.

    So, why isn’t that enforced? I wonder when last a fishing license was sold?

    So, until we have genuine conservation interest and commitment amongst our leadership – as formal policies – and the stringent and impartial enforcement thereof, dedicated persons like yourself are pissing in the wind, I’m afraid. Sad!!

    • Anonymous says:

      Imagine living in one of the wealthiest places on planet Earth and still having people (local or foreign) having to fish for sustenance like some agrarian society.

      Lift the bottom out of poverty and they won’t need nor want to drag every living thing out of the ocean just to eat to survive.

    • Courtney Platt says:

      Actually, there had been an attempt to require a fishing license for expats, but it was immediately dropped. This is why I am recommending a free Caymanian-only fishing license with a provision for expats and visitors to pay for a “hook-and-release” license available only on tours with charter fishing operators. We can no longer afford to let everyone take permitted marine resources from our reef. Our population (the demand) has long ago out-stripped the supply.

  10. Anonymous says:

    🛑 The must read article. One can only imagine what is in the Cayman coastal waters. Remember that it is impossible to escape toxic leachate from the Dump, no matter where you live and work or study. Frankly, it is terrifying.

    “Toxic synthetic ‘forever chemicals’ are in our water and on our plates”

    “The farm sits less than 10 miles away from the Peterson Air Force Base, just outside of Colorado Springs, where fire foam was used for decades in firefighter training. The foam contained PFAS, short for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances. ”

    https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/pfas-synthetic-chemicals-water-toxic/?fbclid=IwAR1MqHsr3MgFbedbghKf2ULK6Ma7o1Pq90e29pV7huApyLHxeYazRpBGVJ4

  11. Anonymous says:

    The SIREN app doesn’t work properly and never has. And DOE enforcement is quite frankly a joke led by clowns. These fools have expanded their own responsibilities but don’t have the staff or funding to enforce the law, nor I suspect the inclination without the equipment to fulfil their tasking.
    In addition, enforcement management and staff appear immune from scrutiny and the norms of expected service. Until certain staff are properly trained and held to account for their lazy and indisciplined actions, nothing will change.

    • Courtney Platt says:

      The Siren app is currently undergoing a total revamp. Watch for announcements and the new app when it is ready for prime time, then add it to your phone to multiply the eyes on our heritage and help with enforcement of the laws.

  12. Anonymous says:

    It would be an easy thing to just copy and adjust the catch limits in Florida. Slot limits to protect juveniles and breeders, catch and possession limits, no commercial sales of reef fish, conch, and lobster, and a ban on fishing the Mutton Snapper spawn.
    We also need to ban throwing empty conch shells back in the beds.

  13. Anonymous says:

    The “I’ve fished my whole life’ argument is crap. Society evolves along with everything in the world. It is clear that protecting our natural resources locally (and globally) far outweighs any individuals rights to strip Earth of what we ultimately need to survive. Fisherman can go fish offshore and let the Cayman Islands replenish themselves which will attract far more beauty for all of us to enjoy as well as money to these Islands as it makes us very attractive to live and visit. Protect our waters.

  14. Anonymous says:

    All the marine parks in the world won’t matter if no one is there to enforce them. Our marine enforcement team have one boat, one! They are under funded and most of them don’t want to get out of their trucks that they drive around in all day.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Don’t worry guys, as soon as Mac can persuade the “independents” starting with Kenneth, to form a government with him as Premier, we’ll have the Chinese back to do a new Port for us.
    Fish will be the last thing on his mind.

    • Anonymous says:

      I gave you a like, cause I agree. But by no means is it a ‘like’ situation… very troubling.

    • Courtney Platt says:

      Excellent point 11:19. WBW, please elect Mario Ebanks for a positive change.

  16. Anonymous says:

    There should be a full moratorium on taking any marine life within the reef or a mile offshore for five years. Painful to some yes but it would replenish our stocks and create eco tourism / preserve diving etc.

  17. Anonymous says:

    Now I can run off the Jamaicans who stand in front of my house catching little five inch fish by the bucket. Question—are any of the snails protected? They have made off with all the big ones we used to have.

    • Anonymous says:

      You already could. There’s an 8″ size limit. Also the bleeding teeth, i.e., small snails, (and periwinkles the even smaller snails and chitons) were protected. The whelks (the big snails)had a closed season IIRC. But you’d know that if you really cared about more than racial aspersions.

      • Anonymous says:

        What, I was supposed to stand by them and grab the littlest ones to throw back? No line fishing means they have no business there and can be run off. It’ll save the whelks too. Do you actually think they care about closed seasons. Btw Jamaican is not a race.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Courtney won’t be happy until the fishermen aren’t able to go out anymore, meanwhile ignoring other issues such as human encroachment, water pollution and an abundance of snorkelers and divers scaring away the fish.

    • Quite the contrary Anonymous 9:46am! I am trying to restore the great fishing that we had just 40 years ago, but that we have done unsustainably until our groupers, cubera snappers and big squab are now commercially extinct (no longer worth the time spent fishing for them) and in the case of the Nassau, possibly even reproductively extinct (too few left to spawn).

      The goal is to restore them from this grossly depressed condition back to a densely populated reef from which any Caymanian will be able to hook up on a big fish in minutes. If we fail to do enough this time around, soon NOBODY, including the fishermen you mistakenly think I am working against with my advice, will be able to catch anything worth boasting about no matter how long you soak your line in the now smaller fishing zones.

      Do you really want expats and tourists fishing there? Or a few dozen fishermen stripping it for sale? BTW, it is impossible to scare reef fish into leaving the island. Adult reef fish would always dive into the reef for safety and NEVER take off across the open ocean. If someone yelled “shark” while you were wading off SMB, would you take off swimming out to sea? Same with reef fish.

      For the few dozen fishermen who still sell OUR reef fish, I propose the CIG could create a list of Government jobs to offer them (to help them find work), if we do the greater good for all future Caymanians by limiting daily fish take to what our lower income Caymanians need for dinner. If we do so, then year by year, catching that dinner will get easier instead of harder.

      I’m not trying to stop fishing, I’m trying to improve it for all Caymanians! There is still much more to be said on this urgent, economically valuable issue of reef fish restoration.

    • Anonymous says:

      Courtney Platt has probably done more to protect the marine environment in Cayman than any of the fishermen. I believe his intentions and commentary are genuine. Perhaps some of our leaders could learn a lot from him!

      Born and bred over-60 Caymanian who remembers when there were fish in our waters!

      • Courtney Platt says:

        Thank you so much for your kind words and encouragement. I’m grateful that in this election season, this issue has picked up quite a bit of momentum with the 20 or more candidates with whom I’ve had between half an hour and two hours discussions. The past 3 CIG Administrations have not given me more than two minutes or responded to emails. There is growing hope even as the last of our seed stock remains in serious peril. Vote!

  19. Anonymous says:

    Seaspiracy on Netflix in 24 hrs.

    • Anonymous says:

      Been looking forward to that.
      Did you see the one about shark fins done by Gordon Ramsey? Heartbreaking.

  20. Really getting down says:

    The best free advice . Thank you Sir. Now you aspiring and old fart MPS, we gonna hold ya to this.

    • Anonymous says:

      Tough talk, yet nobody is holding this Cabinet to account this week for rezoning George Town Protected Marine Park (Mission Blue Hope Spot) into an expanded CI Port Anchorage Zone. No public consultation or transparency, just an after the fact Gazette notice! Resigned silence from all the CPR petition signers rewarding the cherry on PPM’s bad policy cake!

      • Anonymous says:

        You mean the no fishing in the port zone that replaced the no fishing i the port zone? Yeah, big change. Careful, your politics is showing through your green screen.

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