Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : November 4th 2013 Contents A32
Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Monday, November 4, 2013
The lionfish invasion is here. We
talk about overfishing, climate
change, ocean acidification,
seismic surveys, shrimp trawling,
industrial, agricultural and oil pollu-
tion threatening marine eco-systems.
However, lionfish may be the single
worst immediate threat facing our
reefs: these invasive super-predators
could wipe out 90 per cent of our
native reef fish.
Lionfish evolved in the Pacific, but
man introduced it to the Atlantic
and the Caribbean. Their venomous
spines prevent them from being
eaten by other fish. Our native reef
fish don t recognise them as preda-
tors; anything that the lionfish can
fit in to its mouth is prey.
The first local sighting was in Feb-
ruary 2012, in Tobago. For months
there were no new encounters with
this alien fish. But they were multi-
plying in the depths. Exponentially.
A spear fisherman told me that he
and his friends caught 45 at Spey-
It will get worse: up to 1,250 lion-
fish have been recorded per acre of
reef. The ease with which they catch
their abundant, unsuspecting prey
has led to them growing a few inch-
es larger than they would in their
native waters. Their stomachs can
expand to 30 times their normal
size. Atlantic lionfish have been eat-
ing so much that one researcher
declared them obese and suffering
from liver disease. These invaders
from the East suffer a western
The Atlantic lionfish has only one
predator: human beings. History has
shown that the least impact has
been suffered in places that were
best prepared. Preparation means
trained lionfish hunters culling lion-
fish from the start. If an area has ten
lionfish, and you remove five, or 50
per cent, on a dive, that s a lot easier
to do than when the number has
grown to 1,000, and you have to
remove 500 to get the same per-
Preparation means ensuring that
the marine eco-system is protected.
Invasive species thrive less in healthy
eco-systems. Lionfish hunters can t
do it alone. The Fisheries Act must
The act regulates minimum net
mesh sizes, so juvenile fish won t be
caught. Just about every single fish-
ing depot has nets lying around with
smaller mesh than the law allows.
The reason is simple: without
enforcement, it takes just one or two
fishermen in an area who use a
small-size net to cause everybody
else to have to use small-size nets.
When person A cheats and uses a
small mesh to catch more fish,
depleting a shared resource, person B
will have to do the same to survive.
The government can make a change:
enforce the law but make it an equal
situation for everybody; use the
Green Fund to replace all the small
mesh-size nets for nets that allow
Trawling for shrimp has been
likened to dynamite fishing. In fact,
the Trinidad trawling industry has
such atrocious bycatch rates, about
14 pounds of discarded bycatch to
one pound of shrimp, that Green-
peace once used it as an example of
the world s most destructive trawling
The government announced a ban
on industrial trawlers and a plan to
phase out the equally wasteful
smaller artisanal trawlers. When I
hear terms like "a plan to phase
out," I think: "We don t have time."
Belize banned trawling by buying
out their trawlers. We should do the
same thing. A collapsed eco-system
is a radical problem; radical problems
require radical solutions. Use the
Green Fund to immediately buy out
the trawler owners and retrain or re-
school the workers.
Petrotrin announced five months
of 24-hour seismic surveys in the
Gulf of Paria, starting in December.
The Environmental Management
Authority (EMA) granted a Certifi-
cate of Environmental Clearance
(CEC) without an Environmental
Impact Assessment (EIA). Fishermen
claim seismic surveys destroy fish
stocks and demand an EIA first, so
damage can be mitigated.
Here s the problem---there is no
data. How can an EIA be made
without data? Suggestion: each oil
company pays for data collection in
their respective blocks. Their activity
comes with an environmental cost.
It s unreasonable to expect somebody
else to burden that cost. Once the
data is collected, it can be analysed
and an EIA can be designed to man-
age the environmental impact. We
don t know much about how
spawning grounds and stock num-
bers will be affected. Anybody who
claims otherwise isn t truthful. The
precautionary principle tells us: don t
do anything potentially harmful
without knowing what you re dealing
I hope to have made it clear that
our ocean is under stress from all
sides. The lionfish is but one new
problem. There are solutions, but the
approach must be holistic.
MARC DE VERTEUIL
AN HOLISTIC APPROACH TO
PROTECTING OUR OCEANS
These are the plates that were laid down for drivers to cross
over. There are big sinks in the gravel at the sides of the plates.
Each vehicle takes about 15 to 20 seconds to cross over.
Friday, the CDA placed ads advising that remedial steps have
been taken to improve the traffic flow. Was this improvement?
Please CDA, take charge of your contractor as the promised
improved traffic flow only got worse because he has not main-
tained the proper positioning of the plates.
This photo gives an idea of the level of lawlessness of drivers
during Thursday's traffic jam coming out of Chaguaramas.
This was at 4.15pm, and the result of roadworks being done.
Why was this work not undertaken at night?
PHOTO: MATTHEW AND DANIEL STOLLMEYER
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