Using the perception of fishermen, residents and tourists to support sustainable fishing practices on the Saba Bank


Saba is a tropical island in the Dutch Caribbean that is known for its unique ecosystems and rich biodiversity both above and below the waterline. Only 5 km from Saba lies the Saba Bank, the third largest atoll in the world and largest marine protected area of the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The rich biodiversity and abundance of marine species attracts tourists and fishermen to Saba and the Bank. Both fisheries and tourism are therefore of great socio-economic importance to Saba. However, both sectors have a direct impact on Saba’s ecosystems. For instance, in both the lobster and redfish trap fisheries, species are being overfished, with bycatch being an issue of concern. The Saba Conservation Foundation conserves and enhances the unique terrestrial and marine environment of Saba and therefore plays an important role in both sectors. 

A precautionary and adaptive management approach must be developed to halt the decline of the fisheries stocks. For this approach a mutual understanding and cooperation between stakeholders, in this case fishermen, residents and tourists, is required. A first step towards this understanding is to engage in a dialogue with them. Engaging with stakeholders is important to understand their knowledge and interests, interact more effectively with them and increase their support for given policies or programs, that may be executed by the Saba Conservation Foundation. Therefore, my internship aims to assess fishermen’s perceptions and the knowledge and attitudes of residents and tourists on and towards Saba’s fisheries.  

From a literature review and semi-structured interviews, I obtained fishermen’s perceptions on the current status of Saba’s fisheries. The perceptions of Saba’s residents and tourists on the current status of Saba’s fisheries were obtained through a questionnaire about seafood and sharks.  

Although my study was challenged by interview and questionnaire limitations, I found that fishermen have not really noticed a change in their fisheries stocks, despite the monitored decline. Furthermore, from fishermen’s perceptions it becomes clear that overfishing and bycatch are issues to be tackled, with the help of funding and/or assistance to improve the current status of Saba’s fisheries. I also found that residents and tourists know the most important commercially fished species on the Saba Bank and prefer and/or mostly eat those species as well. The most important reasons not to eat a certain type of seafood for both respondent groups relates to environmental concerns such as: endangered-, overfished- and/or protected species. Hence, residents and tourists know quite a lot about Saba’s fisheries and seem to act on that knowledge most of the time. Moreover, residents and tourists have a very high knowledge level on sharks and both a positive attitude towards them. Releasing sharks caught as bycatch is strongly preferred by both respondent groups.  

My internship shows that Saban fishermen are willing to solve the current issues of overfishing and bycatch and that residents and tourists want to see a sustainable fishery in which sharks are treated well. Therefore, it is important that fishermen, residents and tourists come together and collaborate to support sustainable fishing practices on Saba and the Saba Bank. 

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