[Coral-List] Remnancy vs resiliency Part 3: making a list

Martin Moe martin_moe at yahoo.com
Fri Mar 24 14:52:15 EST 2006


Alina’s post, although a bit strident, was right on.
But it isn’t going to work. Let’s face it, creating
educational material and appealing to science, reason,
conscience, love and respect for natural systems,
effective enforcement of existing conservation and
environmental law, and even graphic depiction of the
inevitable catastrophic results of our current
attitudes and policies; is not going to change the way
the vast majority of people, first world, second
world, or third world, personally interact with their
environment. The factors of personal economics
(primarily), greed, corruption, cultural
superstitions, religion, and ignorance will trump
science and reason almost every time. It is good and
very important, to think and act with an environmental
conscience, and to urge others to do so as well, and
this will have an impact, but it is just a ripple in a

Actual or perceived economic interests will almost
always drive or at least affect environmental law.
This is a given in our society, and our method of
creating environmental law is flawed. Garrett Hardin
said it all in 1968 when he coined the phrase,
“Tragedy of the Commons”, or in essence, “Freedom in a
commons brings ruin to all.” The fisherman’s response
to declines in the resource is almost always new
territory, bigger gear, and/or more traps. And
unfortunately a commons regulated by the exploiters is
not a whole lot better than just plain freedom. The
history of commercial fishing, recreational fishing,
and tourism development is blunt testimony to Hardin’s

Now there are good commercial fishermen, fishermen
that are very concerned about the state of the
resource and that work hard to help regulate a
sustainable fishery. But fishermen are fiercely
independent, hard working, and strong willed people
who resent, to a greater or lesser degree, anyone,
average citizens or educated desk jockeys, that try to
meddle in the business that they, and their fathers
and grandfathers, have carved from the sea and are
convinced that they “know better than any else” how to
manage “their” resource. Often many will give lip
service to the pronouncements of scientific regulators
and then resent and ignore as much as possible the
regulations that are established to protect the
resource and, concomitantly, the future of their
fishery.  Take the Florida lobster fishery for

For some time I have been trying to create interest in
developing a research project on use of a den trap in
the Florida fishery. A den trap basically gives spiny
lobsters a refuge similar to a natural den during the
day, but allows the lobsters to egress at night to
forage and eventually migrate. This is not a new
concept; this type of device was used many years ago
at the beginning of the fishery. It consisted of an
“ice can”, a large metal container open at one end
that was used to freeze water to produce ice. When
these cans were discarded, fishermen would compress
the opening to make it smaller, attach a rope and buoy
and harvest it as appropriate. But lobsters were not
contained as they are in the modern trap. As the
fishery expanded, a more efficient method of harvest
was needed. But, now there are many potential
advantages to the resource and eventually to the
fishery if a den trap design is proven effective.

1. Traps lost from buoy cutoffs and traps lost in
storms or abandoned after the season become ghost
traps and kill lobster for up to a year if they are
not found and disabled or removed from the water.

A den trap, if lost, would become habitat during the
time before disintegration and would enhance rather
then destroy the future of the fishery. There would be
no loss of lobster or other marine species due to
death in a ghost trap and this would preserve perhaps
as many as 400,000 lobsters per year for the fishery
and the environment. 

2. Juvenile or “short” lobsters are used as
attractants (bait) in confinement traps and 1 to 3
million may die each year due to this practice. It is
also possible that the legal use of shorts for this
purpose may facilitate the illegal trade in juvenile

Use of den traps would eliminate this practice
completely and make any possession of short lobsters
illegal. This would preserve up to 2.5 million
lobsters a year for the future of the fishery.

3. Poaching is a serious problem in the fishery, the
most serious problem according to many lobster

Use of den traps throughout the fishery would
eliminate any poaching that was conducted during night
time hours

4. Lobsters, large and small, have an important
function in the environment. The rock base beneath the
sediments in Florida Bay contains many solution holes
and cracks and crevices. These hard bottom habitats
are cleared of sediments by lobsters and groupers,
which provides hard bottom area for many other
animals, including sponges, corals and juvenile
lobsters and fish. Substantially increasing the
numbers of juvenile lobsters in this environment will
enhance creation and maintenance of exposed hard
bottom, which in turn will enhance lobster and fish
populations. Large lobsters on the offshore reefs feed
on some organisms that feed on corals. Increasing the
numbers of large lobsters on offshore reef areas may,
to some degree, enhance the condition of the reefs and
provide more breeding adult lobsters to enhance
reproduction of the species. A responsible fishery
does not eliminate the breeding stock even if
recruitment is largely from other areas.

Use of den traps throughout the fishery would
strengthen natural lobster populations and enhance the
effect of these populations in the environment through
elimination of loss of trapped lobsters and through
the freedom of lobsters up to the day of capture. The
survival of additional lobsters in the population,
combined with the establishment of refugia and
research only areas should increase the numbers of
adult breeding lobsters. 

4. Trap loss and destruction during storms creates
“trap trash” that fouls grass flats, beaches and
mangroves areas after storms.

It is possible that the lower profile of a den trap
and perhaps the increased weight to volume area will
keep the trap a bit more stationary during weather
events thus decreasing trap loss and diminishing
accumulations of trap trash in the environment.

5. Other benefits of the den trap should include
better condition of the lobsters taken in the fishery
and in increase in the CPUE (catch per unit of effort)
over that of the standard, top entry, confinement
trap. Since lobsters are free to enter and leave the
den trap they will not suffer from starvation and loss
of condition in the trap. And since their condition
will not decline with capture time in the trap,
occurrence of disease will decrease, weight will
remain normal, and better product will be delivered to
market. The easy entrance to a den trap may increase
the catch of lobster per trap (CPUE), when the number
of traps is reduced to proper levels.  Also,
elimination of the practice of using juvenile lobster
as attractants (bait) in lobster traps may reduce the
occurrence of a recently discovered lobster virus that
is lethal to juvenile lobsters by eliminating the
collection and transport of juvenile lobsters to areas
where traps are set.

I thought that this concept was worthy of at least a
research project to determine if den traps might be
useful and helpful to the future of the spiny lobster
fishery. The response of the fishery was almost
universally negative; in fact I was called an ignorant
“orifice that passes bodily waste” on public radio
after I sent a letter to the editor of a local
newspaper suggesting such a research project. A grant
was also submitted by John Hunt to conduct a research
project but this was not funded. Maybe the FWC will
take another look at the possiblilities at a future

We are a free society, and this must be preserved, but
as our numbers increase (and it seems that they will),
we have to find ways that will preserve the
environment and our natural resources. It is not easy
to make changes that will protect the reefs, but we
must try, and I think that economics is the only key
that will work to make significant change. There are
three things that can be done. 

Continue to use the best possible science to educate,
regulate and enforce environmental and conservation

Reduce exploitation of sensitive natural resources.

Mitigate the economic hardships that may be created by
the reduction of exploitation to levels that will
protect the environment and sustain the populations of
fish and invertebrates.

This could be done through economic means. Place a
large environmental tax on the production of fishery
products (and perhaps even non-consumptive use of
natural resources) that would be adequate to fund
research, education, enforcement, and even subsidize
existing fisheries up the point that the participants
in the fishery are equal to the allowable harvest and
the new market structure. The resulting high price of
some fishery products would then reduce demand for
wild caught organisms, increase demand for
aquacultured products (OK, this has its own
constellation of problems), and ease the transition of
the existing fisheries from high production at low
prices to low production at high prices. The tax would
come after the sale of the product so that increased
price would not drive increased production. Easier
said than done, of course, many political and economic
stumbling blocks, but perhaps easier to accomplish
than trying to educate and motivate millions of people
concerned primarily with their own economic welfare,
cultural norms, and entertainment requirements to
change to a more environmentally conservative

Martin Moe

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