In a recent feature on NBC’s Rock Center with Brian Williams, reporter Natalie Morales highlighted the plight of the Miskito Indians who dive to catch lobsters off the coast of Honduras. These divers are often severely disabled or killed as a result of poor fishing practices.
Through the Management of Aquatic Resources and Economic Alternatives project, however, USAID and Chemonics are making an impact on both the negative environmental and social impacts of lobster diving off the Miskito Coast of Honduras and Nicaragua. Under the open access systems in Honduras and Nicaragua, fishermen race to catch as many lobsters as they can during the lobster season in order to maximize profit.
This takes its toll on conservation of the species, as well as on the fishermen’s health. Due to overfishing, divers are pushed to go deeper and deeper with old and unsafe diving equipment. As a result, many fishermen suffer from decompression sickness, which can cause serious health problems, and sometimes even death. The Management of Aquatic Resources and Economic Alternatives project is addressing this problem by working with the governments of Honduras and Nicaragua and with the local fishing industry to promote better lobster fishing methods.
A moratorium on scuba diving for lobster is scheduled to go into effect in 2013. The project has brought together fishermen, government authorities, and local organizations to generate support for the moratorium and to offer training in sustainable lobster fishing techniques. Chemonics and USAID are also working with the government of Honduras to draft new fisheries legislation that incorporates rights-based access to fisheries that would eliminate the “race to fish” and improve conservation of the species and its habitat.
Even more importantly, the project is helping the governments of Honduras and Nicaragua as well as local stakeholders identify alternate livelihoods for lobster divers, and is conducting feasibility studies to determine those most suitable for financing. As part of this effort, the project has forged an alliance with a regional development bank to help finance the conversion of diving fleets to trapping fleets, or possibly engage in a new revenue-producing activity. The goal is to have pilot programs in place before the scuba fishing moratorium goes into effect.