It’s time for the whales again! As this article is published the Humpbacks will be making their way north along our shores, cows accompanied by their newborn calves, returning to their summer feeding grounds off the coasts of New England, Canada, and even Scandinavia. While we all know that whales are mammals, they are included in most countries’ fisheries departments, thus incorporated in this series on commercial fishing in the Caribbean.
Many scientists and organizations including the United Nations are predicting the total collapse of fisheries around the world due to historically poor management practices, over fishing, destructive fishing practices, and pollution. A statement made at a November 2006 meeting of Caribbean fisheries ministers and representatives from the International Whaling Commission seems to indicate that fisheries along at least one Caribbean island’s shores in the Lesser Antilles have already collapsed.
During this meeting, St. Kitts and Nevis’ Minister of Housing, Agriculture and Fisheries, and Consumer Affairs, Cedric Liburd advocated for the return of commercial whaling in the Caribbean, stating, “We have all these tourists coming here, what are we going to feed them with, are we going to ask the United States to send the fish here?” He further stated, “That’s not what we want. We to want to be able to benefit from tourists coming to our country and that’s what we have to look at.”
Minister Liburd went on to state that exploiting the whales by killing them would benefit tourism in the Caribbean although he offered no explanation as to how whaling would encourage tourism. Some assume offering whale meat to tourists was the intended draw, however, based on well-documented surveys, Americans, Europeans, and Canadians, who make up the majority of visitors to the Caribbean, abhor the practice of whaling as well as eating whale meat.
According to recent statistics the whale watching industry in the Caribbean is currently generating about $22,000,000 USD per year in income. As France proposes the creation of a whale sanctuary off the coast of Dominica that would bring even more tourism and whale-watching dollars, Minister Cedric Liburd of St. Kitts and Nevis proposes killing those same whales to feed the tourists…tourists who will not eat the whale and who will no longer visit the Caribbean.
After 30 years as a wild and domestic animal rescuer, rehabber, and educator in the states, Becky Dayhuff became a scuba instructor and journalist covering the marine environment in the Caribbean.
Editor’s note: According to Caribbean News Net, more than 15 Caribbean whale watching organizations, in partnership with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), met the first week of December 2006 to formalize CARIBwhale, an association committed to conserving cetaceans and their habitat and promoting responsible whale and dolphin watching. A formal launch is planned for early 2007. Whale watch operators from Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guadeloupe, St Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, as well as hotel and tourism associations from Dominica and St. Lucia participated.
"CARIBwhale’s mission is to foster an environment that will protect cetaceans and their habitat in the Caribbean," said Andrew Armour of Dominica, who was elected President of CARIBwhale at this week’s meeting. "In addition to promoting responsible whale watching we will also support non-invasive scientific research, as well as educational programmes, community involvement, and advocacy."
CARIBwhale organizers say it will afford membership to small, medium and large regional whale watching organizations, regional conservation and tourism and hotel associations, and academic institutions and scientists as well. The organization hopes to enhance education, training, and research in collaboration with Ministries and conservation groups, and also to help standardize collection of data on marine life in the region.
"CARIBwhale promotional activities should serve to increase the numbers of tourists who visit the Caribbean," said Cuthbert Phillips of the St Lucia Hotel & Tourism Association. "This will benefit all of us, from our whale watching outfits, to our hotels, restaurants and shops."