Fisheries on Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius (Caribbean Netherlands) are important for the local economy and food provision on the islands. In the Caribbean Netherlands, fisheries and (dive) tourism contribute significantly to the GDP, with 1% and >50% respectively. Whereas in the Netherlands, this is only 0,1% for fisheries and the fisheries industry (Agrimatie, 2020) and 4,4% for tourism (CBS, 2019).
Fisheries can have a negative impact on the health of a marine ecosystem. In the past, fishing activities have negatively affected the health of Caribbean coral reefs (de Graaf et al. 2015, de Graaf 2016 & de Graaf et al. 2017). The current impact of local fisheries in the Caribbean Netherlands on the marine ecosystem is largely unknown but is expected to be prevalent. Fisheries are regulated through outdated fisheries regulations (Ecovision, 2018). Fisheries monitoring on Saba and St. Eustatius is limited to the landings only. On Bonaire, no monitoring is being carried out. In addition, very limited information on fish stock health is available and no studies into the seafood market structure have been performed. For the Caribbean Netherlands, no reliable information is available on the import and export of seafood, seafood sales nor consumption statistics.
This market study was performed to analyze the local fisheries and seafood supply chain on Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius. The goal of this study is to provide recommendations to WWFNL to enhance sustainable practices in the fisheries and seafood supply chain in the Caribbean Netherlands through market mechanisms. A total of 361 interviews were performed and additional information was acquired by a literature study and consulting local stakeholders and authorities. Interviewees were subdivided into four groups: professional fishermen, supermarkets/ restaurants, consumers and importers/exporters. Interviews from the four categories were analyzed for each island separately.
On Bonaire, fishermen mainly catch pelagic species and they primary sell these to middlemen on the island. The vast majority of the restaurants on Bonaire serve locally sourced seafood (85%) while only few supermarkets sell local seafood (27%). Fishermen on Bonaire also indicated to fish on and/or source seafood, including conch and lobster, from Las Aves (Venezuela) indicating that not all ‘local fish’ is fished in the waters of Bonaire. Whether ‘local’ seafood sold on Bonaire originates from Las Aves or Bonaire itself is unknown and unmonitored, masking a potential shortage in local fish stocks. Fishermen on Saba mainly fish for lobster and redfish. Almost all lobster is exported to St. Maarten, part of which is shipped onwards to Hong Kong. Some fishermen also sell part of their catch to local restaurants and consumers. During this research, all restaurants on Saba said to serve local seafood, and 40% of the supermarkets sell local seafood. Fishermen on St. Eustatius primarily catch lobster and reef fish and indicated that they sell their catch to local consumers, restaurants or transport it to St. Barthelemy. However, according to the former data monitoring officer (DMO), a large part of the lobster catch is also exported to St. Maarten and St. Martin. This was not indicated by the interviewees. Of the interviewed restaurants 58% serve local fish and only 22% of the supermarkets sell local seafood on Saba.
We have found that, to stimulate sustainable practices, supermarkets and restaurants on Bonaire and Saba would consider promoting local sustainable species, boycott less sustainable species and/or would consider to implement an ecolabel. Boycotting less sustainable species is not a preferred option according to restaurants and supermarkets on St. Eustatius.
Consumers on Bonaire and St. Eustatius primarily buy local seafood directly from fishermen. However, during the interviews on Bonaire it became clear that many consumers are not aware that these fishermen are in fact middlemen. On Saba, consumers have no preference for buying local seafood at a certain location. Quality is indicated as the most important purchasing criterion, followed by origin (local vs non-local) and sustainability. Consumers indicated to be willing to pay more for sustainable species.
From this market study, it became clear that the seafood supply chains on Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius completely lack transparency. There are currently no central locations where consumers can buy local seafood. No information is available or provided on the species, origin and capture method.
On Bonaire, fixed prices of local seafood were implemented by the government in 1996 to ensure that local residents are able to buy locally sourced seafood (see Appendix 5). These fixed prices have not been revised since. Fishermen are still receiving the same price for their fish, whilst the costs of fishing and living have increased and catches have declined.
When trying to obtain information on the fisheries sector from local authorities, responsible agencies and/or international databases, it was found that structural, reliable and comprehensive data on import/export, number of fishermen, total landings and registered seafood selling locations is not available for Bonaire, Saba nor St. Eustatius. Because of this lack of information, we have not been able to draw quantitative conclusions from information gathered with the interviews. Therefore, we have not been able to give detailed recommendations on specific market mechanisms. However, we have formulated recommendations for qualitative improvements in the seafood sector in the Caribbean Netherlands. These recommendations are summarized below.
We recommend to implement a comprehensive fisheries management plan on Bonaire, Saba and St. Eustatius. This fisheries management plan must include a monitoring scheme in which at least the total landings per species, the bycatch levels, fishing gear, number of fishermen and fishing trips are monitored and registered for each island. With this information, together with fishery-independent data where required, fish stock assessments can be carried out which will provide insights into the effects of fishing activities on the fish stocks. This monitoring must be structural and will provide information to evaluate and adapt the management system when necessary. The fisheries management plan should also include mandatory fishermen registration, improved data collection on seafood trade flows, including the import and export of seafood and a traceability system.
In the past, both national and local fisheries regulations have been developed and implemented without participation of fishermen. This has resulted in unclarity about the responsibility of legislation as well as unfamiliarity with, lack of support for and non-compliance with the law. Fishermen, the local government and national park authorities should work together in updating and implementing marine park regulations when these affect or concern fisheries. This will increase involvement, understanding and compliance and will improve collaboration between these stakeholders.
We recommend to increase the visibility of the fisheries on the islands through a visibility and awareness campaign targeting consumers, restaurants and other seafood buyers and resellers. This will improve the ability of consumers to find and recognize local fish and make sustainable choices, as well as becoming aware of the impact and role these fisheries have on the islands. Awareness on sustainability in the fisheries sector should include advice on which species to choose or which to avoid. This visibility and awareness campaign will also be beneficial for the fisheries as this will enable them to position themselves as a sustainable, economically and culturally important actor on the islands. This will enhance their sense of responsibility and recognition on the island and hereby increase the incentive to follow regulations and collaborate with fisheries authorities.