Meet Natalie Miaoulis, the brains and brawn behind Bahamas’ spiny lobster FIP

Published on
December 15, 2017

The Nature Conservancy's Natalie Miaoulis has been working in the Bahamas,resilience of that country's fisheries. The Bahamas is among the top three seafood producing countries in the Caribbean, behind Suriname and Guyana. SeafoodSource asked her about her work in the Bahamas with a special focus on the Bahamas' spiny lobster fishery.

SeafoodSource: Can you describe your role with the Nature Conservancy in the Bahamas?

Miaoulis: I began working for The Nature Conservancy in the capacity of conservation practitioner in October 2016. My mandate is project lead on all fisheries activities within the Bahamas and to assist in coral conservation activities, as well as acting as the Bahamas’ Spiny Lobster Fisheries Improvement Project country coordinator.

SeafoodSource: What is The Nature Conservancy's mission in the Bahamas?

Miaoulis: The Nature Conservancy (TNC) is an international nonprofit, non-governmental organization committed to protecting land in the United States since 1951 [and it] has become a well-respected leader in conservation science. The Nature Conservancy has worked in the Caribbean for over 40 years and is currently working in more than 16 Caribbean countries. The Conservancy’s Board of Governors acknowledged the diversity and abundance of natural resources in the Bahamas, as well as the opportunity for preservation of large expanses of intact systems across the archipelago and recognized the need to protect them.

TNC’s work in the Bahamas includes establishment of sustainable finance mechanisms for protected area management; development of a co-management framework for effective management of protected areas; implementation of the FIP for the spiny lobster fishery, a move towards a sustainable lobster fishery for the Bahamas; building capacity for protected areas managers such as the Bahamas National Trust and Department of Marine Resources; working with the Department of Marine Resources and Bahamas National Trust to implement measures to more sustainably manage our conch fishery, as well as working with partners to conduct environmental outreach and to build a network of conservation scientists across the country.

SeafoodSource: What is the value of the spiny lobster fishery to the Bahamas in terms of dollars and employment figures?

Miaoulis: Approximately five million pounds of lobster tails are exported annually, generating up to USD 75 million (EUR 63 million). The primary market base is the United States (60 percent) and the European Union (30 percent).

Overall, the fisheries sector is vital to supporting local economies by providing employment for more than 20,000 local, commercial, and sports fisherfolk, creating supplemental income, supporting food security and giving lift to the tourism industry.

SeafoodSource: Why there was a need for the Bahamas spiny lobster project?

Miaoulis: Illegal harvesting practices such as the harvesting of juvenile, female bearing, and out-of-season lobsters, coupled with the onset of illegal foreign poaching, threatened the longevity of the Bahamas’ spiny lobster industry.

The spiny lobster industry is vital to the economy of the Bahamas. Many households depend on the spiny lobster industry for their livelihoods and or to supplement their livelihoods. The spiny lobster industry in the Bahamas is far-reaching and goes beyond the fishermen to the communities in which these fishermen live through work in processing and exporting centers, restaurants, and into the tourism industry. Although the industry is economically vital, illegal harvesting practices and foreign poaching threatened the longevity of the Bahamas’ spiny lobster industry. The importance of a fishery improvement project was clear: to ensure a thriving sustainable industry for generations to come.  

SeafoodSource: Please describe the Bahamas spiny lobster fishery project and state its objectives.

Miaoulis: Launched in 2008 by The Nature Conservancy Bahamas, the World Wildlife Fund, the Bahamas Department of Marine Resources (DMR), the Bahamas Marine Exporters Association, Friends of the Environment, and fishermen, the Bahamas’ spiny lobster FIP was created with the goal of creating a sustainable spiny lobster industry in the Bahamas. The DMR has been a key partner since the launch of the Bahamas spiny lobster FIP, providing crucial information for all stock and management assessments of the industry. The goal of The Bahamas spiny lobster FIP has also been to attain the Marine Stewardship Council sustainable seafood certification. To facilitate attaining this certification, DMR has provided key data. The Bahamas is now in the full assessment phase of the MSC certification process and is awaiting a standing report from the MSC next year.

SeafoodSource: What have been some of the project’s specific objectives and accomplishments?

Miaoulis: [The project has successfully enhanced the fishery’s] data collection and data management system, improved monitoring and enforcement, conducted assessments and reviews, and conducted outreach and education efforts.

Its major accomplishments include:

  • Upgraded data collection and management system, FISMISS, implemented by the Department of Marine Resources, an electronic data base for the spiny lobster fishery including catch, export, and fishermen data;
  • Zero Tolerance program established by the Bahamas Marine Exporters Association;
  • Catch Certificate Program implemented at the Department of Marine Resources;
  • Two stock assessments completed, to document and record all catch being bought and sold by seafood processing and exporting houses and trace the seafood products from the fishermen to the exporting house;
  • Harvest Control Rule developed;
  • Bycatch assessment completed;
  • The government appointed The Bahamas Spiny Lobster Working Group 
  • "Size matters” education and outreach campaign;
  • Stakeholder outreach to nine Bahamas islands and over 500 fishermen and over 300 stakeholders to develop the first ever species-specific management plan in The Bahamas, the draft Bahamas Spiny Lobster Fishery management plan;
  • Reaching MSC Full Assessment phase.

SeafoodSource: What more needs to be done to ensure the Bahamas’ spiny lobster fishery is sustainable?

Miaoulis: TNC’s Bahamas Spiny Lobster Management plan [needs] to be adopted by the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources; enforcement within the fishery [must be] increased; and continuous education and outreach of rules, regulations, and reasons to all stakeholders of industry [must be continued].

SeafoodSource: How is TNC working to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in the spiny lobster fishery and in the rest of the Bahamas’ fisheries?

Miaoulis: The Nature Conservancy assisted with review of the Bahamas’ [affirmation of the] Port State Measures Agreement and the Bahamas Draft Fisheries Act. The Bahamas' signing of the agreement gives greater authority and control to the Bahamas government to manage and monitor IUU fishing of foreign vessels. During the revision of the Bahamas' fisheries act, TNC facilitated a workshop with the FAO and stakeholders to review the Draft Fisheries Act and to ensure that it aligned with the Port State Measures Agreement.

TNC has also presented a workshop on advanced traceability systems to the Bahamas Department of Marine Resources, seafood processors and exporters, fishermen, and academia on the options for advanced systems to be used within the Bahamas.  

SeafoodSource: How can businesses help to combat IUU fishing, and why should they?

Miaoulis: Business is the demand and supply driver of the seafood market, the trend-setter, and in the end, the solution to IUU fishing.  Often, when trying to invoke change in the industry, we point our fingers to fishermen as the source of change in behavior, but what we forget is that fishermen are businessmen and -women answering a demand in the market. As long as there is a demand or a buyer for their product, they are in business. Change that demand or take away that demand and that changes supply.

The solution to change is changing the demand. This could not be exemplified more in the case of the Bahamas Marine Exporters Association. The Bahamas Marine Exporters Association (BMEA) is made up of seafood processors and exporters of varying business sizes under the common thought that if their industry is sustainable the industry will be able to remain successful for generations to come.

The BMEA signed and established a zero-tolerance agreement, in which all BMEA members agreed to not purchase tails that are under 5.5 inches and/or female bearing lobsters or purchase lobster out of season. The zero-tolerance agreement shifted demand and therefore shifted supply, reducing the cases of IUU fishing in the Bahamas.

Because of this agreement and the BMEA’s partnership and work in the Bahamas’ spiny lobster FIP, this association is now in the process of full assessment by the Marine Stewardship Council for the MSC certification of sustainability. If granted this certification, the BMEA will secure its place in international markets demanding sustainable seafood and open up opportunities for expanding their markets.

Reporting from the Caribbean

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