Minister Gray Is New CRFM Head

Nassau, The Bahamas — Agriculture, Marine Resources and Local Government Minister V. Alfred Gray took over as head of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) with a charge from outgoing chairman Hilson N Baptiste of Antigua and Barbuda to keep the organisation relevant.

“CRFM is at a crossroads right now,” said Mr. Baptiste. “It needs strong and decisive leadership if it is going to be relevant to the Caribbean.”

In March, Bahamas Director of the Department of Marine Resources, Michael Braynen, assumed leadership of the Caribbean Fisheries Forum, the body of technical experts which advises the Ministerial Council.

“The importance of CRFM to the Caribbean cannot be overstated,” said Mr. Baptiste, “since we see other persons other than Caribbean people, Japanese and Tiawanese, exploiting our waters because we ourselves cannot manage our own coasts as effectively as we ought to.

“We live in an area where coastlines represent billions of dollars that are not being realised…because of lack of resources and a lack of knowledge.

“Fishing and marine resources in this Caribbean are crucial to the survival of the region now and for years to come. But it depends on what we do today whether it would be sustainable or not.”

The Sixth Meeting of the Ministerial Council of CRFM – Ministers responsible for fisheries from CRFM countries – held their regular annual meeting on Friday at SuperClubs Breezes to chart the course for management of the region’s fishery.

CRFM was founded on March 26, 2003, to promote and facilitate the utilisation, conservation and management of the region’s fisheries and other aquatic resources for the economic and social benefits of the people of the region.

The Ministerial Council on Friday reviewed the performance of CRFM and initiated the second strategic plan for the organisation.

CRFM is an inter-governmental body whose members are Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Dominica, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Montserrat, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, and Turks and Caicos Islands.

Minister Gray, in his address, noted that fisheries contribute two per cent of the Bahamas’ national GDP and employs more than 12,000 Bahamians.

About $75 million is earned each year from lobster export as 90 per cent of the lobster harvested here is exported.

“While the Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that 70 per cent of the world’s fisheries resources are either in decline or over exploited,” said Mr Gray, “we are very pleased to say the Bahamas still enjoys a relatively healthy and rich fishery resource.

“If we are to continue to benefit from the resources of the sea we have an imperative to do all in our power to protect our resources for the many livelihoods which depend on them.”

The CARICOM countries face many threats to their marine resources, he said. These include illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing; limits on access to export markets; threats from invasive species; and environmental changes.

“Steps are being taken through the Council of Ministers to effectively address these threats and to eventually find possible solutions,” said Minister Gray, the Member of Parliament for MICAL.

He told of the Spiny Lobster Fishery Improvement project.

It is being undertaken by the Department of Fishery, local fishermen, the Bahamas Marine Exporters Association, the Nature Conservancy, Friends of the Environment, the Bahamas National Trust, the Bahamas Reef Environmental and Educational Foundation, and the World Wildlife Fund.

The goal is to improve the management and practices of the spiny lobster fishery so that it can perform at a level which is consistent with the standards established by the Marine Stewardship Council, and for the fishery to eventually become certified by that council.

“I am also told that soon export of lobster might only be possible if it is certified by that council,” said Mr. Gray.

“The stakeholders are hard at work to ensure that by the end of this year The Bahamas qualifies as one of the countries from which lobster could be exported without problems.’

By Gladstone Thurston
Bahamas Information Services

CAPTION:
Agriculture, Marine Resources and Local Government Minister V. Alfred Gray makes at point at the Sixth Meeting of the Ministerial Council of CRFM, Friday at SuperClubs Breezes. From left are outgoing CRFM chairman Hilson N Baptiste of Antigua and Barbuda, and Permanent Secretary Cresswell Sturrup.