Providing the world’s growing population with a sustainable and secure supply of seafood is a daunting task. Illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing is one of the biggest threats to global fisheries. IUU fishing in the Caribbean accounts for a large proportion of the spiny lobster and queen conch fisheries, which are the two most economically important in the region.
For my postdoctoral research, under the supervision of Dr. Stephen J. Box, I am developing DNA-based traceability tools to help combat IUU fishing. This research project, supported by the Smithsonian Institute for Biodiversity Genomics and Global Genome Initiative, lead to me to Pedro Bank, Jamaica, which is one of several IUU fishing hotspots in Caribbean. My goal on this trip was to collect samples of Caribbean spiny lobster and queen conch in this region to start building a reference DNA-based database that will help us identify and track illegal fishing in the future.
Pedro Bank is located 60 nautical miles southwest of Kingston, Jamaica and is the Caribbean's main fishing ground for spiny lobster and queen conch in this area. Almost all the spiny lobster harvested in Pedro Bank is consumed in the United States, while most of the queen conch is exported to the French Caribbean territories of Guadeloupe and Martinique. The lobster and conch fisheries in Jamaica generate several million US dollars per year and provides a crucial source of employment for artisanal fishers (fishermen and fisherwomen) living in remote coastal communities.
Pedro Bank has three small sandy cays located on the southwestern edge of the bank. Fishers inhabit two of the cays and the third, Bird Cay, is an uninhabited seabird sanctuary where fishing is not allowed. Middle Cay is home to approximately 500 artisanal fishers who spend up to 11 months a year on the cay. Though the Jamaican Defense Force Coast Guard conducts routine patrols of the waters of Pedro Bank to catch lobster and conch poachers, still up to one third of all the lobster and conch harvested in Pedro Bank are illegally poached by foreign commercial fishing boats then exported with a false origin of catch to cover their tracks.
With the samples I collected, I am now at Stanford’s Hopkins Marine Station where I’m collaborating with Dr. Stephen Palumbi’s lab to develop DNA-based traceability tools for spiny lobster and queen conch, with the hopes of helping regulate and prevent illegal harvesting of these key commercial species in the Caribbean.
By Nathan Truelove, Postdoctoral Fellow at the Smithsonian Marine Station at Fort Pierce (edited by GGI Staff).