Today is the start of the lobster season but once again there is little to celebrate.
As anyone who has followed even a little of this blog will know, representatives of the small scale lobster fishers in this region have complained for years about illegal lobster fishing. It is blatantly carried out, with scant regard for the law, the state of the lobster stocks or even the men carrying out the work. Government has belatedly brought in some enforcement and, after inspections, over 300 boats had their licences revoked due to irregularities but now the fishermen of Prainha are facing a bigger problem. The lobster are simply not here.
The North East region of Brazil has been suffering a severe drought for a number of years and one theory holds this as a root cause for the lobsters disappearance. The lobsters are believed to feed on the nutrient rich run off caused by heavy rain, consequently a lack of rain leads to a down turn in numbers.
It was thought that storms at sea had shifted the sands on the sea bed, covering the areas favoured by the lobster but exploratory dives found this not to be the case, the lobster beds were as per normal but without the lobster.
A rise in the sea temperature may have pushed the lobster to migrate to deeper, cooler water. The next stage will be to carry out a series of dives to see if the lobster are indeed there.
Without doubt predatory fishing has had a huge impact on lobster stocks, with fishing effort being too great for too long. A failure to implement adequate management tools and a lack of enforcement has enabled illegal fishers to fish year round, clearing vast areas with no regard for even the most basic of conservation measures (closed season, no capture of egg bearing females, minimum size limits etc) and to do so with impunity.
It is probable that each of these factors has a part to play in the lobsters disappearance but whether this is a temporary or permanent change is a question that remains to be answered.
The Fishery Improvement Project (FIP) is slowly making headway which will hopefully lead to a certificate of sustainably fished lobster (you can read their report here). Part of the FIP process is the requirement for research programs and these should shed some light on the life and habits of the lobster of which relatively little is known. Long called for management tools are being implemented and we shall see if the enforcement is more rigorous this season.
Non of the fishermen in Prainha can be said to be optimistic for this season but as seen in the video in this link (TV Verdes Mares) having voiced their concerns they say they will continue to fish and to have faith. To be honest they have little choice, it is to be hoped their faith pays off.