Monitoring the Saba Bank Fishery


The main conclusion from this study is that no new fishing permits should be issued until a long-term fishery monitoring program is in place. The study emphasizes the need for effective enforcement of existing regulations.

Findings from the study include:

  • 14 fishing vessels use the Saba Bank.
  • Saba Bank fishermen engage in two types of fisheries: a spiny lobster fishery (most frequent), and a snapper fishery (least frequent).
  • The total lobster catch amounts to about 90 tons per year and the total red snapper catch amounts to about 12 tons per year.
  • A considerable number of traps are lost due to ship traffic and hurricanes. None of these traps are fitted with a biodegradable panel, so the lost traps pose a huge threat to the fish stock of the Saba Bank.
  • In 1999, the Saba Bank fishery sector generated a gross economical value of 1.1 million US$.
  • An important issue that came out of this study is that a substantial part of the landings of lobsters consist of illegal lobster catch. High percentages of under-sized lobsters and berried lobsters in the catch are a serious concern. A high percentage of lobsters landed are under the legal size limit and a substantial percentage of berried lobsters are landed. The mean CL (carapace length) of lobsters from the Saba Bank (10.7 cm) was set at this level so that future harvesting is not endangered as long as the legal size regulation is strictly enforced. 

Management Recommendations:

Fishery regulations must be strictly enforced for a successful management of the Saba Bank fishery:

(As a direct result of this catch assessment survey the Coast Guard of the Netherlands Antilles has commenced to strictly enforce the fishery regulations.) The following regulations are currently being enforced:

  • Legal mesh size
  • Use of the biodegradable panel
  • Legal size limits for lobsters
  • No landing of berried lobsters
  • No landing of soft-shell lobsters (lobsters in ecdysis)
  • Requirement of Fishing License for both Saban Territorial Waters and Economic Fishery Zone (EFZ) of the Netherlands Antilles.

The implementation of the fishery regulations by the Coast Guard of the Netherlands Antilles has resulted in a substantial decline in illegal fishery activities:

  • The number of under-sized lobsters has decreased, and practically no berried lobsters and lobsters in ecdysis were brought in.
  • Illegal (non-licensed) fishing activities from both foreign and domestic vessels have practically stopped.

Restrictions should be made on landing berried lobsters and lobsters in ecdysis, and on catch and effort through size limits (lobsters).

The total fishing effort for snappers should not be increased until more data is available (average length of the main snapper species of the Saba Bank is relatively small).

Further research and accurate catch and effort and length-frequency data are required to formulate sound regulations.

A communication network should be developed which involves fishermen, Central and Island Governments, the Coast Guard and the research community.

Both the Saba island Government and the Central Government need to strictly enforce the regulations concerning the legal mesh size and the biodegradable hatch for traps to reduce the amount of ghost traps on the Saba Bank.

The lobster fishery should not be expanded; there are already concerns that the fishing effort might have reached sustainable levels of exploitation.

Continued monitoring of the fishery is needed to show clear trends on the lobster fishery exploitation level.

The Central and/or Saba Island Government should ensure that data continues to be collected and interpreted.

Fishermen should be encouraged to exploit the resources of the Bank in a sustainable manner.

Both the Central Government and the Saba island Government should conform to the inspection procedures and standards required by the EC, so that fish products can once again be legally exported to the French islands.

It is recommended that both the Central Government and the Saba island Government specify the nature of the fishing licenses per target species. The resource users should pay a fee for these licenses according to regional standards. The income generated from the fishing licenses fee can be used for management and monitoring of the fishery, whereby the resource users contribute to the management and monitoring of the stock.

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