Despite the acute political situation in 2018, which left Nicaragua on its knees both socially and economically, the resilient fishing communities together with the government continued to prioritize the preservation of the spiny lobster, and to drive it towards Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification with the active support of WWF and its corporate partners in the US.
“Spiny lobster is considered the queen of the Caribbean given its economic, social and cultural importance. That is why this species is a very valuable fishing resource for Nicaragua in every sense. The spiny lobster fishery Improvement Project (FIP) has allowed us, as the fishing authority, to develop a management strategy that ensures the sustainability of the ‘queen’ for the durability of its benefits” notes Ronaldo Gutiérrez, Researcher at the Nicaraguan Institute of Fisheries and Aquaculture (INPESCA).
The Nicaraguan fragile economy relies heavily on its fishery resources. The country is the 8th largest lobster producer in the world and the largest in Central America, with an average production of over 4,400 tons per year. The export of lobster alone generates $55 million dollars in revenue for the country, and supports more than 3200 fishermen, according to a market study published in 2017 by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
Nicaragua is the second-poorest country in the Americas, and the lobster fishery provides the sole income for many coastal communities. A critical issue challenging this fishery is the likelihood of illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing that weakens the management of the resource. The Nicaraguan Spiny lobster FIP attempts to address these challenges and to drive the fishery towards MSC full assessment by the end of next year.
A Strong Involvement of US Companies
The US is the main importer of Nicaragua lobster. Over 55% of Nicaragua’s Spiny Lobster finds its way to the US market. The rest goes to importers like France (around 25%), China, Singapore, or the Netherlands, according to the trade data. Several US retailers and suppliers have partnered with WWF to help transition this fishery towards more responsible and sustainable practices. Companies providing support to this FIP include Costco Wholesale, Hyatt Corporation, Red Lobster, UNFI, Sysco Corporation, Tequesta Bay Foods, Inc., and The Kroger Co.
“The long-term sustainability of the Nicaraguan lobster fishery depends on the involvement of companies like us to work with our seafood suppliers and help drive change on the water. That is why we have committed to actively participating in this FIP since its inception and encourage everyone who sources from the fishery to become engaged”, says Bill Mardon, Assistant General Merchandise Manager of Meat and Seafood at Costco Wholesale Corporation. Costco has been supporting this FIP from the start and encouraging the local authorities to implement the different activities of the project.
After the Bahamas spiny lobster fishery became the first Caribbean fishery to earn MSC certification in 2018, there was renewed interest by US buyers to assist the spiny lobster fisheries in Nicaragua and Honduras in achieving similar results.
“Red Lobster is committed to sourcing responsibly caught seafood to ensure long-term sustainability and support fishers’ livelihoods. Through our engagement with partners in the Nicaraguan and Honduran lobster FIPs, we are helping to drive improvements on the water and establish the fishery as a model in the Caribbean”, explains Nelson Griffin, Senior Vice President and Chief Procurement Officer at Red Lobster, one of the main importers of Caribbean lobster to the US market.
Progress on the Water
WWF has partnered with the Nicaraguan Institute for Fisheries and Aquaculture (INPESCA) and other stakeholders since January 2012 to help drive improvements in the Nicaraguan lobster fishery towards meeting the MSC standard. Over the past 7 years, the Nicaraguan government has collected abundant data which will facilitate the implementation of a new fishery management plan by November.
This fishery was also recently classified as having a low impact on the ecosystem, according to two different impact risk analyses commissioned by WWF. To further reduce the impact, the Nicaraguan government recently banned the use of the grampin, a type of hook used in industrial trap fishing that caused damage to the marine habitat. The ban will take effect during the 2020-2021 fishing season.
“The Nicaraguan spiny lobster FIP has continued to advance thanks to the strong support of the Nicaraguan government and industry participants. Much progress has been made, and some other key steps must be addressed for the fishery to meet the MSC standard, particularly, the development of a bi-national stock assessment for Honduras and Nicaragua”, says Wendy Goyert, Lead Specialist for Latin America Fisheries in Transition at WWF-US. “Bilateral cooperation and data sharing is crucial to ensure the long-term sustainability of this precious shared resource”, she adds. The two neighboring countries are carrying out the first ever bi-national stock assessment expected by April 2020.
The Nicaraguan Spiny Lobster FIP has ensured that the community voices are being valued and incorporated in the development of the fishery management plan and all activities with a social dimension. “The local communities and FIP stakeholders have realized that achieving the sustainability of the spiny lobster fishery will benefit them by improving their livelihoods while conserving the stocks,” notes Pilar Velásquez Jofre, Fisheries and Marine Conservation Technical Officer at WWF Mesoamerica. “It took time, but once the fisherman realized what’s at stake, they become more enthusiastic and involved in this FIP to ensure a strong and healthy Nicaraguan spiny lobster for generations to come”.