Tourism tangles a fishing lifeline
Loss of sea access hits the Dominican Republic’s already pressed fishermen.
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Claudia Sánchez, spokesperson for Cap Cana, says the lone road will remain open to fishermen.Skip to next paragraph
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“Access won’t be closed to them as it’s how they earn their livelihood,” she says in an e-mail.
But APEJU’s members remain skeptical. And they have their reasons. Many of them once lived in a seaside village, now razed, on the site now occupied by Cap Cana’s hotel and marina. Although they’re quick to tell of forced evictions, they concede that many residents willingly sold out and moved to a village constructed for them some miles inland. But nobody expected to lose access entirely to that stretch of beach. They did, and this time they want a written guarantee that it won’t happen again.
The path to sustainability, although fraught with challenges, is clearer. APEJU must try to manage how and when its 140 members fish, a new concept for them. The first step, already implemented, was not harvesting lobsters during egg-laying season. Next, they hope to institute a minimum tail size.
APEJU’s members fish for sustenance and for sale locally. CODOPESCA, the government’s year-old fishery management office estimates that there are some 13,000 small-scale fishermen operating in the island’s seas, rivers, and lakes. Despite their small boats and generally low-tech equipment, they can have a significant impact – decades of unregulated fishing has significantly degraded the nation’s reefs. The World Resources Institute says that overfishing poses the single greatest threat to Dominican reefs.
Poverty contributes to the problem. Fishing has historically offered people from humble backgrounds a way to earn a respectable living. But when others in a community see a fisherman’s success, they join in. Soon, more are fishing than the ecosystem can sustain.
“The fishing effort is massive for the few fish there are,” says Paulino. “We are doing harm.”
But there are few if any jobs that would pay the often-illiterate fishermen even one-third of what they’re currently earning.
Some alternatives have been suggested: The PUNTACANA Ecological Foundation, part of the PUNTACANA Group, offers courses in reef monitoring and fly-fishing. In the future, says Joe Power, a marine biologist with the foundation, they hope to put some areas off limits to fishing, an idea that usually meets stiff resistance from fishermen, but which can, in fact, improve nearby catches.
Last year, Paulino and three other members of APEJU visited Punta Allen in Yucatán, Mexico. Colleen Gatliff, a Peace Corps volunteer stationed in Verón, helped organize the trip. Her idea: Show Dominican fishermen how their Mexican counterparts had successfully resolved a similar problem of reef degradation.
In Mexico, fishermen constructed lobster casitas, cement houses along the reef. By providing an ideal habitat, the casitas increased the number of lobsters. That meant that the Mexican fishermen could leave reef fish alone, and the ecosystem recovered.
The Mexican fishermen also developed what has become a thriving fly-fishing industry geared toward tourists. (The fish are thrown back.)
Paulino was impressed. The waters off Punta Allen were teeming with fish and lobsters, and the Mexican fishermen earned more money than before.
APEJU would like to apply similar solutions here. “We’re slowly opening our eyes,” he says.