The spiny lobster (or crawfish) is the most important
element of The Bahamas commercial fisheries.
Thats 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.
|Ken Lewis, owner of G&L
Seafood in Grand Bahama, processes crawfish
|Photo by Hala Nasreddine
|Fishermen preparing for the
|Photo by Hala Nasreddine
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 hasnt changed substantially and there
doesnt appear to be any inclination to alter
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.
Ronalds Seafood is another example. Its
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 dont 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 weve seen a 15 percent increase in production,
except during hurricane years. This season harvesting
is 15-20 percent higher than last year.
In Pinders 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.