Proposed Prohibition on Brazilian Lobster

On the 9th October 2012 fishermen from coastal communities along the east coast of Brazil, met in Prainha Do Canto Verde to discuss calling for an 18 month closure of the lobster fishery, from now until May 2014, not only on lobster fishing but a complete shutdown that will prohibit the capture, transport, sale or consumption of lobster, a drastic step but one generally considered to be the only option left if the lobster fishery, on which more than 50,000 livelihoods depend, is to be saved.

Earlier in the year it was announced that the state of Ceará, in a joint project with UNEP was going for an MSC certificate of sustainability for lobster, with the intention of reaching certification in time for the world cup in 2014, the process, if a success, would then be extended to cover lobster captured along the rest of the Brazilian coast.

The lobster certification process is underway but in order for it to be granted, there are conditions that need to be met and these are laid out within a program of monthly targets. Unfortunately, absolutely nothing has happened since July 2012, none of the monthly targets have been met and so the certification process is already behind schedule.

There is currently no information on the lobster stock, its health, size, numbers of males, females etc, this is a fundamental requirement for certification and although the research group Labomar sent a proposal for a research project into the ministry of fisheries over a month ago, they so far have had no response.

The fisheries ministry seems to be in chaos and things are not moving forward. It is likely that the fishery’s minister will be replaced again and it is possible that the ministry will be closed completely.

The fishing season in Prainha this year has been the worst on record. During the first 3 months of the season the 57 registered boats brought in a total catch of 998 Kilos. This converts to 80 days at sea with a catch rate of less than half a kilo per day per boat, on average the fishermen were working for less than R$10. per week and boat owners are facing massive losses on their investment in traps, bait and boat maintenance. Virtually all boats were forced to cease fishing after the first 3 months; records show that during any given season, the catch rate in Prainha greatly reduces after the first 2 months.

The men receive a payment to cover them during the closed season; the qualifying rules for this payment prohibit the men from fishing for any other species during the year but with lobster catch rates so low, it is impossible for the men to sustain themselves and their dependants.

The fishermen at the meeting all told the same story from their own communities, reporting that even boats using illegal fishing gear (who have traditionally operated year round, ignoring the closed season) are being retired from fishing as they too are unable to catch enough lobster to make it worthwhile putting to sea.

Nothing being said at the meeting was new to the men, they have heard it all before and have called for action many times in the past but they have never before been able to gain the state wide support of all fishermen, many of whom were still able to make a living by, for example, fishing in deeper waters or switching to illegal fishing gear.

It is estimated that 90% of all exported lobster in 2012 came from illegal fishing, compared to an estimated 70% in 2011 and the reputation of Brazilian lobster, which is already poor in America, has been further damaged by the largest ever number of containers being refused entry by the FDA, mostly on the grounds of salmonella contamination, poor sanitary quality and egg bearing females; the importing of egg bearing females to the USA has been illegal since 2009.

Another vital link in the chain is the buyers / exporters, some of whom have previously bought lobster irrespective of how it was caught (traders in lobster are meant to fill out declaration forms, giving details of the fishing vessel and its license etc but many forms are falsified). Without the unanimous support of buyers it would be impossible for any action to be effective but the situation is now so serious with exports down by 50% (2,505.5 tons in 2010 {full year} compared to 844.5 tons this year) that for the first time buyers / exporters are saying they will not resist a period of prohibition.

If the prohibition goes ahead, the organisers will call on the government for a concentrated effort on turning around the lobster fishing industry, with the implementation of the FIP* (Fishery improvement Project), some other possible proposals are programs of alternative employment and educational opportunities, specifically aimed at those fishing illegally to encourage their voluntary retirement from the industry. The surrender of illegal fishing gear and the exchange of traps with a smaller than permitted mesh, for those of a legal size. It may be called for these proposals to be supported by an educational campaign to raise awareness on the importance of sustainable fishing, with young educators disseminating environmental education amongst fishermen / women and to children in schools along the coast.

It is recognised that a period of prohibition will be expensive and will require investment on the part of government, perhaps in partnership with private investors. The fishermen will need to receive financial support, with compensation being paid to people working in every step of the chain but this short term investment would allow the recovery of the lobster stocks and would be more than recuperated for by an increase in future catches, investment could be returned by, for example, placing a small tax per kilo on exported lobster.

Since the meeting in Prainha, outreach work has begun with a program of consultation with fishers in communities along the coast of Ceará, the proposal was presented to the Ceará management committee for lobster on the 16th of October, with a view to presenting the final proposal to government in Brasilia at the end of the month.

There is a groundswell of support for the prohibition; the challenge is getting listened to and action taken in Brasilia.



Claire Pattison Valente 2012


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