July 25, 2008

Reef Check Dominican Republic Participates in Cross-Cultural Fishermen Exchange

By Ruben Torres and Deidre Pilotte 
Reef Check Dominican Republic Director, Ruben Torres PhD, and Peace Corps Volunteer Colleen Gatliff, along with representatives from the Fishing Association of Juanillo-Punta Cana (APEJU) and La Caleta Fishing Association, spent a week visiting fishing communities throughout the Yucatan peninsula of Mexico. Funding for the trip was provided by The Gulf and Caribbean Fisheries Institute (GCFI) and the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).
The trip was planned to validate and increase the leadership capacity of the APEJU and La Caleta fishermen, expose them to well-managed marine protected areas (MPAs) in Mexico, and introduce them to alternative gear choices and sustainable fishing strategies. The group visited three different Mexican fishing associations and three marine protected areas in the region, which allowed for exchanges of ideas with other fishermen who have been successful in changing their fishing methods and organization, and now work successfully in tourist areas. Puerto Morelos, Cozumel, and Punta Allen were the three locations the group visited. 
Dominican fishermen were impressed with the “abundant and large marine fauna and MPA management they saw while scuba diving at Cozumel, excellent organization, structure and empowerment of fishing cooperatives in Puerto Morelos and Punta Allen, alternative fishing methods (fly fishing at Punta Allen), and the extremely successful lobster fisheries with casitas at Punta Allen.” The group was also able to ride along with a group of lobster fishermen on the first open day of the season, to learn more about the methods of sustainable harvesting used by the Mexican fishermen. More than five tons of lobster were caught that first day, and open season will last a few more months.

The visit was deemed very successful by Dr. Torres. Upon returning from Mexico, a preliminary talk was conducted at La Caleta City Hall in the Dominican Republic to show pictures and videos of the trip. A second series of talks, which will include the presentation of a documentary, is now being prepared. Also, Reef Check DR started the implementation of community-based management actions at La Caleta National Park and is also trying to assist the Punta Cana fishermen to find alternative income opportunities in the tourism industry, as they have been displaced from the majority of their fishing grounds due to the tourism industry. All fishermen that attended the trip have taken on leadership roles in their respective fishing associations and are actively seeking ways to implement better fishing practices, improve reef health, and develop better managed MPAs.

\"\" \"\"