The Western Central Atlantic Fishery Commission (WECAFC), a body of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), convened in Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago, 26-28 March 2014 for its 15th biennial session. For the first time in its 40 years of existence the Commission adopted a range of management recommendations and resolutions.
The Commission expressed concern about the serious decline or disappearance in the last two decades of many of the spawning aggregations of grouper and snapper in the Caribbean. It recognized that immediate action is required to stop further reduction in spawning areas and depletion of these important stocks. The Commission therefore recommended a regional seasonal closure for all commercial and recreational fishing activities of Nassau Grouper (Epinephelus striatus) in identified spawning areas for the period 1 December – 31 March, starting in December 2014.
Secondly, the Commission emphasized that in recent years, national efforts for the management and conservation of Queen Conch have increased in the region. This has led to encouraging developments such as better stock protection, improved understanding of the species ecology and management needs, and enhanced enforcement to combat illegal catch and trade. The Commission expressed its commitment to respond to CITES Conference Of Parties (COP) 16 Decision on “Regional cooperation on the management of and trade in the queen conch (Strombus gigas)”. The Commission further recommended that WECAFC, in close coordination with its partners, The Central America Fisheries and Aquaculture Organisation (OSPESCA), the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM), the Caribbean Fisheries Management Council (CFMC), the Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the Secretariat of the Specially Protected Area and Wildlife (SPAW) Protocol, develop a regional plan for the management and conservation of Queen Conch, for final review and regional adoption by the WECAFC 16th session in 2016.
The Commission also issued recommendations on strengthening fisheries management planning in the WECAFC area and on the sustainability of fisheries using fish aggregating devices (FADs).
Finally, resolutions adopted by the Commission at its 15th session encourage region wide implementation of: 1) the CRFM “Castries, St Lucia, (2010) Declaration on Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated Fishing, 2) the International Coral Reef Initiative (ICRI) Regional Strategy for the Control of Invasive Lionfish in the Wider Caribbean, 3) Voluntary Guidelines on Small-scale fisheries and tenure, 4) the Port State Measures Agreement and the FAO Voluntary Guidelines on flag State performance in the region”, and 5) the Strategic Action Programme for the sustainable management of the shared living marine resources of the Caribbean and north Brazil shelf large marine ecosystems (CLME+ SAP).
WECAFC is a regional fishery advisory body with thirty-three countries and the European Union as members. The Commission members have an interest to cooperate in responsible fisheries management and development in the Wider Caribbean Region. The 15th session was generously hosted by the Ministry of Food Production on behalf of the Government of Trinidad and Tobago.