REPORT TO REEF CARE CURACAO’S
CRIME WATCH HOT LINE*
Spearfishing is no offence but a crime (“Reef Control Regulations” AB Curacao 1976, no. 48). Spearguns are included in the (fire) arms act (assignment Public Prosecutor 1996).
A special police officer was appointed. Reef Care Curacao supported the initiatives enthusiastically and started an information and publicity campaign; collected spear guns and ordered local artist Yubi Kiridongo to recycle them into a sculpture that can be admired in the Curacao Zoo. But, after the police officer left the supervisory authority, dive schools and eyewitnesses reported a serious increase in spearfishing.
The legislation is correct, but prevention, control and criminal tracing are inadequate. Nowadays either spearfishing has no priority anymore or is even disclaimed.
Both expressions worry many citizens and therefore Reef Care Curacao starts finding facts resulting in public and governmental awareness and finally in the legal status of Curacao Marine Park.
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Reef Care Curacao guarantees your integrity. Reef Care Curacao will use the facts only for full extent of the law against spearfishing.
Please, read Paul Hoetjes’ passionate plea…
The great disadvantage of course, in a world shared with humankind, lies in the fact that people preferably catch the biggest fishes and thus the males. This is especially serious in areas such as Curacao where spearfishing was allowed. There is no surer way to exterminate all the big groupers, and when those are finished the smaller sizes are next, precluding the possibility of females changing sex to fill the breeding vacancy. Groupers are easy targets for spearfishers, since they tend to hide in holes or crevices when alarmed, making them sitting ducks so to speak. Some, such as the Marbled grouper and the Nassau grouper, are by nature so bold and curious that they will actually approach a spearfisher to investigate.
The end result is a very rapid overfishing of the species. It cannot reproduce anymore due to the lack of males and the numbers are reduced quickly and dramatically. That is the situation we find on Curacao. The groupers that are still seen are mostly the smaller species, less popular due to their size (and more difficult to hit). The very few other groupers still to be seen on rare occasions—and never very big ones—are probably the result of a few larvae from other areas reaching Curacao. But these few never get the chance to grow big enough to change into males and form a new breeding population.
What can be done about this situation? Well actually it is very simple. We just need to take care that the few baby groupers that survive the long journey from other islands and finally manage to reach Curacao, get a chance to reach adulthood and "malehood". That means eradicating all spearfishing and prohibiting fishtraps as well (fishtraps catch a lot of juvenile fish such as groupers, preventing them from growing big enough to reproduce). If this is effectively done, than in about 20 years we should start to see more groupers. In 10-15 years the larger groupers such as Yellowmouth and Nassau grouper reach a size of about 80 cm. and some of them start turning into males.
What is needed to make this happen is the political will to really, effectively stop spearfishing. It can be done, just look at Bonaire where even carrying or importing a spear gun is prohibited and where many more fish are to be seen. Politicians will need to look at the future, at the potential of the dive-tourism industry. Curacao already has the world-class coral reefs necessary for a top-rate diving location. What it lacks are the big fishes that divers expect to see. With those, Curacao could surpass Bonaire as a dive destination since our reef topography is more varied.
At the moment Curacao attracts some 10'000 divers a year. Bonaire receives about 20'000 divers a year, and an island like Cozumel in Mexico, about the size of Curacao, gets 250'000 divers a year even though its reefs, though spectacular, have less living coral cover and are less diverse in species.
We don’t need 250'000 divers a year; in fact it would probably be bad for the reefs. But even 50'000 divers a year is an enormous potential that would bring huge revenues and many jobs such as boat captains, boat mechanics, dive-guides, dive-instructors, tank fillers, car-rental operators, restaurant operators, etc. etc. And it is so easy. We already (as yet) have the magnificent reefs, all we need to get such numbers of divers is effective legislation to bring back the fishes (and lobsters and turtles etc.) on our reefs. And of course we need to carefully consider where we can build the facilities to lodge all those divers in such a way that the environmental impact is minimal so that we don’t destroy our reefs in the process. We need not even wait for the fishes to actually be back, to get all those divers. Just promoting and advertising the fact that effective protective legislation is being enacted, endorsed by environmental organizations such as Reef Care Curacao or the Underwater Park Management, will give a big boost to the extremely environmentally conscious dive-tourism industry. If we are smart, in twenty years we can have a thriving dive-tourism and a lot of big fish. We could be proud of our island with its natural beauty, instead of sad because of our steadily diminishing and disappearing natural treasures.
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