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The Gap Year Blog

Lobster in Belize

19 Dec 2019 11:40 AM
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Just the other day, I had one of the most wonderful people I know express their desire to plunge into the Belizean cuisine by trying some traditional seafood.

‘It would be a shame not to try it, don’t you agree?’ he proposed as an unquestionable argument for his willingness to lay down a hefty fifty dollars for a dish of Caribbean Spiny Lobster, served drifting in a yellow sea of melted butter.

I explained to this kind gentleman, that I, in fact, did not agree.

I said, ‘I am deeply concerned for the future of the Caribbean Spiny Lobster, and I believe that we should consider upgrading its protection.’

Following this short exchange, I felt obliged to dig up all there is to know about these splendid reef creatures and to relay my findings to the gentleman. During succeeding encounters, I set out to inform his opinions on whether our lobsters’ precarious situation necessitates an urgent call for their removal from all menu listings.

I met him again the next day, reigniting our former debate by supplying a concise summary of what he should know about these magnificent lobsters.

‘The Caribbean Spiny Lobster inhabits all major environments around the Caribbean Sea; starting at the surface of open waters as a little larvae, and then venturing into the mangroves during his first post-larval stages, followed by seagrass adventures as a young juvenile, which he eventually abandons for adult life on the reef and further offshore.’

‘You should also know’, I carried on, ‘that, from starting life as a tiny fertilised egg clutching on to his mother’s pleopods, all the way to his transition into lobster adulthood, it takes him about 23 to 30 months. During this whole cycle of life stages, the lobster eats and eats, and moults, and hides, until eventually, he has grown big and strong enough to venture out onto the reef.’

‘Here at Caye Caulker, it is on the reefs that lobsters are harvested to end up as dinner,’ I told the man, ‘but the lobsters should always be of a certain size, only taken during certain months, and females found with eggs on their underbellies must be released.’

The kind man was confused. ‘Surely, if they only take the adult lobsters, during certain times, and they don’t keep those carrying eggs, you are mistaken about their uncertain future.’ ‘For if these are what regulations stipulate, it is likely a sustainable way, and my tasting one will do no harm.’

It was at this point that I had to excuse myself from our reunion, to dive into the science behind such regulations. I explained to my companion that, although his argument had face value, more research into the matter might shift his understanding. We decided to reconvene in a few days’ time to debate the matter further.

And so I waded through the internet, digging up scientific publications and reading extensive reports from organisations that compile lists of threatened species. A review caught my attention, stating that there was strong anecdotal evidence that our lobster’s existence is under heavy threat, but there simply isn’t enough scientific data available to pinpoint exactly how much threat. Until this gap in knowledge is filled, it explained, regulations could not be reviewed.

Shocked, I searched on, ploughing through large descriptions on the lobster and his life. They mentioned that we are often taking undersized, youthful lobsters, not yet ready to be removed, and that there are many cases in which lobsters are taken during months that are off-limits. They also mentioned that female lobsters can delay fertilisation of their eggs in wait of ideal conditions. A female lobster caught might thus also risk a union lost as the female mistakenly gambled on more time and better days to come. I found publishing’s on the removal of the mangroves, the uprooting of the seagrass meadows, and the destruction of the reef, all highlighting that our lobsters’ essential environments are becoming sparser and less pleasant.

Tears filled my eyes, and I could read no longer. I went to find the sweet gentleman, and invited him to read what I had found, to see what I had seen. He fell still, and then exclaimed that he felt cheated. For if he had possessed this information sooner, he never would have thought about taking a lobster from the reef. I knew this to be the case, as I knew this man to be one of the kindest I’ve met.

‘It would be a shame to try it, don’t you agree?’ I said.

He agreed.

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By Melissa Versteeg - Frontier Belize Volunteer

Frontier runs terrestrial & marine conservationcommunityteaching and adventure projects in over 50 countries - join us and explore the world!