The Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) has borrowed and modified a Puerto Rico protocol to remove large amounts sargassum seaweed that has been retarding the movement of fishing vessels and chasing away some fish species from otherwise heavily populated fishing grounds.
Executive Director of CRFM, Milton Haughton said the problem has been plaguing the Caribbean for the past five years. “We have been having massive quantities of sargassum seaweeds coming in our waters, washing up on our shores, affecting the fish stocks, affecting the fishermen in their operation; their boats cannot go out in some cases,” he told Demerara Waves Online News. The weeds are some times as much as 40 feet deep in the sea.
He is among top regional officials who were in the Cayman Islands for the Agriculture Ministerial meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) and CRFM’s ministerial board meeting.
Haughton explained that the protocol, which has been approved by the CRFM ministers, includes the careful removal and disposal of the weed from the sea and shores. “The protocol is really a set of guidelines to give our countries a structured, systematic approach to planning and to responding when these seaweeds come ashore or come in our waters,” Haughton. He said the required equipment to be used on seashores would vary from one country to the other depending on the likelihood of causing more damage to sensitive and natural ecosystems.
Now that agriculture and fisheries ministers have approved the protocol, the CRFM boss said each Caricom member state would have to “customize” that template to suit their specific domestic needs.
“It is a step forward, it is not a perfect document but for the first time we have in place an adopted framework that will help us respond in a coordinated and a structured manner based on international best practices in dealing with these sort of events,” he said.
Experts say the “massive” invasion by sargassum seaweed- the Common Gulfweed (Sargassum natans) and the Broad-toothed Gulfweed (Sargassum fluitans)- which are free-floating has resulted in the closure of some seaside hotels and restaurants across the Caribbean. In the case of Guyana, Haughton said boat engines have in some cases become entangled in the weeds and so reduced the motility of the fishing vessels.
Climate change and increased nutrients in the water, scientists, say is the major reason for the large amount of seaweed off West Africa and the Caribbean Sea. “You have a combination of warmer waters and the seaweed will grow faster in the warmer temperatures coupled with increased nutrients in the water washed down from the land masses, the rivers end up in the oceans so the increased nutrients in the water,” he said, adding that changes in the current is one of the possible reasons.
The top CRFM official said sargassum seaweed can be a source of energy and fertilizer. “There are two sides to it so it is a nuisance in one sense but it could be an opportunity in another,” he said. The seaweed is also consumed by certain types of marine species.