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The ‘spiny’ focus of fisheries
Ken Lewis, owner of G&L Seafood in Grand Bahama, processes crawfish for export.
Photo by Hala Nasreddine
Fishermen preparing for the catch
Photo by Hala Nasreddine
The spiny lobster (or crawfish) is the most important element of The Bahamas’ commercial fisheries. That’s been true for a long time because of its primary importance as an export item and the relatively high value it commands on the international market. Most Bahamian fishing efforts are directed toward the capture of spiny lobsters during the season, from August 1st to March 31st – the same as the commercial season in Florida.

Spiny lobster is the biggest food export in The Bahamas. Exports were valued at over $68 million in 2001, down from almost $85 million in 2000. Exports are generally distributed with 60 percent going to the U.S. and 40 percent to the European Union, almost entirely to France. Central American countries -- namely Honduras and Nicaragua -- are their closest competitors in terms of volume exports of spiny lobster. Honduras competes particularly in the U.S. market.

Traditionally, The Bahamas government has always tried to preserve commercial fishing for Bahamians. It wants the boats to be Bahamian owned and those actually engaged in fishing to be Bahamians as much as possible. “Even with a new government, which was the administration ten years ago, during that time the policy on Bahamian ownership hasn’t changed substantially and there doesn’t appear to be any inclination to alter it.”

The avenue for foreign investment is in two areas: agriculture and seafood processing. There has been foreign investment in seafood processing, and some of the processing plants in the country do have non-Bahamian involvement. But the government requires that all lobster products be completely processed in The Bahamas prior to export.

The primary fishing centers are in Spanish Wells and north Eleuthera, but Abaco and Andros also have fair numbers of commercial fishermen as well as people who fish on a small scale. Spanish Wells is primarily a fishing and to a lesser extent a farming community. There are also locations in Abaco and scattered on various islands, and fish farms, hatcheries and processing plants notably in Freeport-Grand Bahama.

An example is G&L Seafood Company in Grand Bahama, which has revenues of $15,000 to $30,000 a month and processes about 2,500 pounds of lobster and conch per day, marketing quick-frozen lobster tails and whole peeled conch. They outsource their product by setting up buy stations mainly on Andros and Abaco, and by providing buy money and a quota to sub-producers who buy on their behalf.

They use five buyers exclusive to their plant and advance $50,000 or more per week for 5,000 pounds of product. The lobster and conch are then processed at their plant and owner Ken Lewis says they export “80 percent of our lobster tails to the U.S. and Japan. Our major buyer is Alba Specialty Seafood in New York. The entire Bahamian lobster industry is tied to one or two major buyers.”

Lewis is quick to point out that lobster is one of few products where demand is greater than supply and the challenge for the industry is to protect the resource. Producers are concerned about the sustainability of the product. The Department of Fisheries has improved regulations on lobster and conch, but the challenge is to enforce the regulations and to educate fishermen to take an overall conservation-minded approach.

Ronald’s Seafood is another example. It’s the only exporter of spiny lobsters on Spanish Wells Island and for 25 years has exported mainly to the United States. They have an agreement with Darden Restaurants and don’t currently seek other markets. Their facility is also 100 percent Bahamian-owned, a rarity on Spanish Wells. General manager Gilbert Pinder notes that, “in each of the last 10-15 years we’ve seen a 15 percent increase in production, except during hurricane years. This season harvesting is 15-20 percent higher than last year.”

In Pinder’s view, protection from lobster poaching is the biggest issue facing the fishing industry. “The government needs to protect lobster fishermen from poachers. Foreigners and Bahamians poaching on lobster traps is a big problem.” Many agree that decisions must be made regarding licensing of habitats and improving law enforcement. Some argue that helicopters and planes should patrol the waters. That may not stop poaching, they admit, but their presence will create enough fear to act as a deterrent.

Director Braynen is of like mind, stating that “the biggest challenge facing the fisheries industry is the simple sustainable development of the fisheries. As the country develops, all of those things will impact on the marine environment and tend to impact it negatively. We have issues of development on the land that will impact the marine environment, and the challenge of instilling in Bahamian fishermen the concept that these resources need to be sustainably used. Some rules must be put into effect to ensure that they have a fisheries in the future.”

Britannia Consulting Group
The Central Bank of The Bahamas
Dupuch & Turnquest & Co.
Butler & Taylor
Surfers Beach Manor
Solomon's Mines
Fine Threads Enterprise
Stuart's Plantation
G&L Seafood
South Ocean Golf & Beach Resort
The Columbian
Project Director
Hala Nasreddine
Senior Writer
Diane T. Berliner

© / The Washington Times 1994-2002

The Washington Times