Fishery and Tourism in the Caribbean

Interview with Mitchel Lay, Fisherman and Coordinating Member of the Caribbean Network of Fisherfolk Organisations (CNFO)

Ute Dilg-Saßmannshausen

“Sea, sand and sun is what tourists look for in the Caribbean”, says Mitchel Lay. The 52-year-old father of five is from Antigua and Barbuda. He goes to the seaside himself almost every day. However, unlike the tourists not in order to swim, but to fish. As a professional fisherman and representative of the Caribbean Network of Fisherfolk Organisations (CNFO) he is concerned about the increasing conflicts between the growing tourism industry in his region and the mostly small-scale fishery that provides a living for many natives. TourismWatch asked him how the fishing communities deal with these challenges.

TW: What are the main challenges for the fishing communities in the Caribbean?

Mitchel Lay:For one, there is the growing tourism sector at the shore and plenty of new recreational activities resulting from it. This leads to competition in the access to the natural resources. Then our own representation remains a challenge. We as fishermen have to be able to represent ourselves in this whole mix of business development activities and governmental interests. Another challenge is climate change. In Dominica for instance we had major storms and rains during the past few years resulting in flooding and sunken boats. Some people died. So, we are very concerned about the projected changes.

TW: Do the fishing communities perceive the growing tourism industry as a threat or as a chance?

Mitchel Lay:It is more of a threat to us than a chance, simply because most of the development does not take our interests into account. We remain outside and do not take part in any of the touristic activities. Still we work in the same area. It would be good for us to benefit in some way or to be able to enhance our own businesses. Unfortunately, this is not how most of the projects in the tourism sector work at the moment.

TW: How do the tourism enterprises currently work?

Mitchel Lay:The actors in tourism almost completely disregard the fishery sector and only deal with the politicians in the region. The Caribbean governments seek to attract direct foreign investment. Tourism has increased a lot in different places like Antigua, St. Lucia and other islands. But there is not much interest in bringing all the stakeholders to the table and collaborate. The focus is on investors and not on us.

TW: Do the fishermen still have enough access to the coastline?

Mitchel Lay:There is access, but it is threatened. The main reason why people will visit the Caribbean is the coast. They come for sea, sand and sun. But that complicates our lives as fishermen. So, if there is a development going on, we might find ourselves in front of a fence due to construction work or a sudden private property. This makes it hard for us to access the sea from the land. And even if you can get to the fishing site from the seaside, it is a challenge, because you cannot reach it from the place you were accustomed to, but only from elsewhere. Then there is the competition from other users as soon as a new resort starts operating. A whole bunch of recreational activities like water skiing or day cruises will start there. These increase the noise level in the coastal areas considerably, which has negative effects on fish and marine life. So we might not be able to catch anything in these areas any more.

TW: How do the fishing communities represent their interests with governments and investors?

Mitchel Lay:Often, decisions are already made when we hear about them. Intervention at that point is difficult. Nevertheless, we try to intervene through the fishermen organisations at the national and local levels. But most of us are small-scale fishers. We have to work to survive. We don’t have employees to represent us, but have to leave work and do it ourselves. This is our reality. We have to feed our families.

TW: You represented the Caribbean Network of Fisherfolk Organisations (CNFO) at the Partnership Dialogue of the United Nations Ocean Conference in New York in June. What was your impression of the discussions?

Mitchel Lay:There was good will to develop strategies and recommendations to protect the oceans and develop their use in a responsible way. Nevertheless, I noticed that there was very little participation from the people who use the oceans most. Like small-scale fishers. That is a big concern. When it comes to tourism and discussions about it in New York, I got the feeling that many governments are very interested to develop touristic activities, but are not very keen to link these developments to existing activities such as fishery.

TW: One of the big topics discussed at the Ocean Conference were marine protected areas. What do you as a fisherman think about them?

Mitchel Lay:I find this discussion extremely challenging, since it affects the livelihood of the fishing community. It may also have negative impacts on world food security. We agree that the management of the oceans is important. But it has to be seriously discussed with the people who use these areas, especially if it limits their access to it. And I don’t mean just a consultation here and there, but a participatory process with all stakeholders. We want sustainable management of the oceans, but protection is a term I am not comfortable with, because it can mean that you don't want anybody to use them.

The interview took place before the Caribbean was hit by hurricane Irma.

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