Crawfish are fished in three ways in the Bahamas:
Artificial habitats or “condominiums”
Condos (also known as casitas elsewhere in the Caribbean) are large rectangular sheets of aluminium with
3 wooden and one open side, which are laid by divers to provide artificial shelters for crawfish. Once a
condo is down, it may be moved around by divers, but it is not brought up. A condo is therefore deemed
to be a permanent feature on the seabed (like an artificial reef), and is not legally owned by anyone, no
matter who put them there. A condo lasts around 3 years on the seabed before disintegrating.
Condos may be fished from a mothership that carries a group of divers who work from smaller dinghies
using compressors. These vessels tend to work offshore on the Bahama banks, particularly around the
southern and western edges of the Great Bahama Bank. The crawfish are removed from the condo using a
hook. On board the tails are wrung, cleaned, soaked in “Pellican Dip” (sodium or potassium
metabisulphite: a preservative) and frozen.
Condos are also set and fished by day fishermen. Many put condos down in nearshore areas, and/or fish
others that they find.
It is not clear whether condos enhance crawfish populations by reducing predation, or whether they
simply relocate crawfish from the reef. It is likely that both effects occur, but fishermen report that if
condos are left for a period of several months to a year in an area of the banks where there have not
formerly been crawfish, crawfish will arrive in that area, implying that the artificial habitats are enhancing survival in areas far from major reef areas.
1.10.1 Data collection and enforcement on shore
Fisheries data collection and enforcement on shore is the responsibility of the DoF, who check licences,
gear, landings and export shipments and collect information on purchases by the processors, catches and
effort. Enforcement and data collection in the Family Islands is the responsibility of the extension officers.
Grand Bahama 2
North Andros 1
Other Family Islands 0
1.10.2 Enforcement at sea
Enforcement out at sea is the responsibility of the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF). The RBDF
concentrates patrols on the southern edge of the Great Bahama Bank, which is the main area for poachers
from the Dominican Republic, Cuba and Honduras, as well as for the arrival of illegal immigrants and
drugs. They also patrol the Cay Sal bank and the western edge of the Little Bahama Bank on occasion.
The force aims to have a presence in the southern Bahamas more or less continuously, although vessels have to detour to Inagua to refuel.
There are continuing complaints from fishermen that it is difficult to get a response from the RBDF out at
sea if a vessel is violating regulations. The RBDF acknowledges that it are not always in a position to respond, particularly given that fisheries enforcement cannot be its first priority.
The Bahamian lobster fishery is undertaken by a range of fishers throughout the archipelago
operating from small day vessels and mothership-dories ventures. There are also a number of
stakeholders associated with the market chain to export lobster.
The lobster fishery remains open access to
domestic fishers and no foreign fishing is allowed. Permits are required for domestic fishers using
wooden lobster traps and vessels over 20 ft. Fishermen using casitas do not require permits. Fisheries
management is currently limited by financial constraints and human capacity.
Due to the difficulties in monitoring and enforcing fisheries regulations throughout the archipelago, a
Confidential Pre-assessment of Bahamian lobster fishery 9
precautionary management strategy has been adopted to help protect vulnerable life stages of the
lobster population. These include: minimum size limits; permits for lobster traps; restrictions on fishing
gear; restrictions on taking ‘berried’ females (stripping or otherwise removing eggs from ‘berried’
females is prohibited); closed seasons, and; no fishing in Marine Protected Areas. Limiting the size at
first capture (Lc), is used to help protect the population from recruitment overfishing. The current
regulation on minimum size is considered to be precautionary and is above the average size at maturity
(Lm). Furthermore, closed seasons can be extended indefinitely if further reductions in fishing
mortality are required (e.g. Nassau grouper fishery was closed for 5 years).
Limited monitoring of lobster catch exists at both landing ports and processing plants. As such, the
overall effectiveness of the current precautionary management strategy is subject to uncertainty. To
date, management strategy evaluations (MSE) have not been conducted.
The number of wooden traps and compressors are monitored through the number of licenses, although
the number of casitas is not routinely monitored. In general, there is a trend away from wooden lobster
traps to an increase in the use of casitas. Limited information is available on the fleet structure, with all
mothership-dory vessels and day-boats larger than 20ft monitored through the vessel license scheme.
Each day-boat has approximately 2-3 fishers while a mothership may contain between 4-8 dories. Since
vessels below 20ft are not required to obtain a commercial fishing license, no information is available
to monitor trends in the number of vessels by size category. The number and general location of
wooden lobster traps are required to have an ID mark, although this does not yet occur for casitas,
which remain relatively uncontrolled.
Although the numbers of casitas are not monitored, anecdotal information derived from senior fisheries
officers indicate that their use has peaked since the 1990s (Gittens, pers. comm.). Casitas are placed
adjacent to the reef or on sea grass beds and may appear to increase the natural habitat available to
lobster. However, they could equally be attracting the existing lobster population away from the reef,
acting as an aggregating device that artificially increases catch rates. To date, no studies have been
performed on the potential impacts of casitas on the lobster fishery.
The two primary methods of capture, lobster traps and casitas, are very selective and few other fish are
retained. A small bycatch of finfish (e.g. lane snappers, grunts and tulip snails) are on occasion retained
in wooden traps, but these are thought to be relatively minor (Gittens, pers. comm.). During the lobster
season, fishers target lobster exclusively but switch to conch during the closed season. Retained species
catch falls below the 5-10% of target catch required for a full assessment of this PI.
Little or no research has been undertaken to demonstrate trends in habitat structure in the regions used
for lobster fishing. The coral reefs and seagrass beds appear to have been maintained. It remains
unclear whether fishing activities contribute to adverse impacts on habitat. Casitas are artificial habitats
that may increase the potential area available to lobsters and prevent fishers having to dive directly on
the reef, thus potentially reducing the level of damage to the coral. Casitas are now increasingly being
placed on seagrass beds. Casitas are made from sheet metal and wooden poles, which although do not
cause ghost fishing, may contribute to long-term reef damage following a hurricane or other
disturbance. Fishers also use up to 25 traps that are tied together in a string. Unlike casitas that remain
in position and require fishers to dive in order to harvest lobster, traps must be pulled to the surface to
release and sort the catch
Regulations are in place to prevent fishers from touching coral or using poisons or other chemicals
without permission that may damage the habitat and living marine resources. As such, casitas and
lobster traps are not placed directly on the reef, which is thought to help minimize habitat impacts.
However, there are no regulations or controls in place to limit the total number of casitas or traps in
Within The Bahamas, lobster is one of the primary grazers on the reef, helping to regulate and control
the level of algal growth within the environment and maintaining a healthy coral reef ecosystem. No
information is available to demonstrate the impacts of reducing lobster within the ecosystem.