There are two subjects that regularly spark public debate in Jamaica. One is the need to Do Something About Climate Change, preferably with somebody else paying the bills. The other is the very bad state of the nation’s fisheries and the need to Do Something About the Fishermen. Again it’s assumed that somebody else will pay the bills. In the past couple of weeks both topics have been raised again.

On April 18 we were told that an international group including The Nature Conservancy and the International Red Cross, with funding from the German government, will spend six billion Euros over four years to protect the shores of Jamaica, Grenada and the Dominican Republic against the impacts of climate change by “promoting the use of coastal habitats”.

The Resilient Islands project’s basic principle is that “Nature , in the form of mangroves, sea grass beds, coral reefs and their habitats, can provide as much or even more protection against climate risks such as erosion, flooding and storm surges, than seawalls, breakwaters, or other hard-engineering solutions.”
Sound familiar? The same argument has been advanced for decades by environmental groups and protected area managers who were called on for advice and comment on one ill-advised piece of shoreline “development” after another.

According to the Nature Conservancy’s climate adaptation specialist, Dr. Natainia Lummen, nature-based strategies aren’t always cheaper up front than hard infrastructure but they are more sustainable over the long-term. They can also add value to existing or planned hard-engineering works. The project has already rolled out some useful planning tools to help communities assess the hazards they face, test the effectiveness of possible defenses, and develop action plans.
Director general of Jamaica’s Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management Major Clive Davis is wary: “I would love to do more of this; more green infrastructure, but if an organisation comes and is offering me hard infrastructure, such as seawalls, I have to go with it.”

Meanwhile, the latest Save the Parrotfish campaign got some fishing communities in a ferment by suggesting that there would be a ban on catching and selling parrots. This is not true. What is true is first, that the Sandals Foundation and UWI are embarked on a scholarly study of parrots to lay a proper scientific foundation for a species management program, and second, that last Thursday there was a national parrotfish forum at Ocho Rios to discuss a management program.
The director of fisheries in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Dr Andre Kong, explained that there is no plan for a ban and that proper management systems need to be put in place for the entire fishrey.
“There has to be a far more comprehensive approach. We are looking at fish sanctuaries, no-fishing zones, regulation for protecting the large fish, gear regulation, among other things. An outright ban is not the answer as it will create social and economic problems for the most marginalised — fishermen,” Kong said.
“It’s not the fishermen alone. We are talking about pollution, development on the coastline; every time you flush your toilet you contribute. We need to also realise that correlation is not causation. Here the fish herbivore population is degrading and so is the coral reef, but in other areas like Florida you have a lot of parrotfish, but the reefs are still degrading. There are other factors in place like emissions, warm sea temperatures, among other things,” he said.
Sound familiar? It’s the same argument fishery experts (including Andre Kong), protected area managers and conservation groups have been making for decades. And it’s always trumped by angry fishermen shouting about their need to make a living even if it means taking the last fish.

There is no disputing the value of parrotfish as reef cleaners, beach builders, tourist attractions and food fish. There’s also no disputing that there aren’t as many as there should be, and few big ones. For some inshore fishers, parrots account for almost their whole catch – because everything else is dead or fled.

Andre Kong must be tired of apologizing for the lack of a modernized Fisheries Act, which would include most of the legal and institutional authority he needs to run a modern (sustainable) fishery. We can only hope that the national forum produces a workable plan to save what’s left and grow more.