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Seacology projects help keep Mexican lobster fisheries healthy

April 14, 2021

By Marisol Rueda Flores

Lobster production is one of Mexico’s most important fisheries, contributing more than 806 million pesos ($40 million USD) to the national fishing sector each year. In the country’s coastal states, we find efforts to preserve all lobster species and secure this valuable, but finite resource for the future. On both the Caribbean and Pacific sides of the country, Seacology is helping local communities make their lobster fisheries more sustainable while protecting the larger ecosystems where these crustaceans live.

Lobsters need healthy marine habitats, including seagrass meadows, mangroves, coral reefs, and rocky areas. Overfishing has depleted lobster fisheries, so efforts are now being undertaken to bolster lobster populations. One effective method is the installation of casitas, artificial shelters made of special cement and other materials.These structures, which are placed on the seafloor, provide an alternative habitat for lobsters, replacing the creatures’ natural habitats that have been affected by the removal of sandy material. Casitas offer shelter from predators and a safe place for juvenile lobsters to grow to maturity.

In the Caribbean state of Quintana Roo, we started a project last year, working with Coral Hero and the Mar de las Antillas fishing and tourism cooperative at Cayo Alcatraz. There, our partners will install 10 to 15 casitas for the Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus) as part of an agreement that establishes a new 939-acre protected area. Our project will further aid the local community by building two restrooms with composting toilets and rainwater catchment equipment to prevent pollution in the surrounding area. It also funds production of a video to showcase local conservation efforts.

Due to the pandemic, things are moving more slowly than usual, but we look forward to sharing news of its progress soon.

On Mexico’s Pacific coast, Seacology recently completed another project at Isabel Island, in the state of Nayarit. The island is a unique place surrounded by coral reefs that serve as a nursery for many species, and is home to one of Mexico’s largest mangrove forests. A National Park and Ramsar site (a wetland of international significance), the island’s value is recognized by conservation organizations, governments, and local fishing communities alike. They are working together to protect the island’s biodiversity, and share responsibilities for conservation and development of the fishing sector. Around the island we can find two common species of lobsters, the blue (Panulirius inflatus) and green lobster (Panulirus gracilis) as well as the less common red lobster (Panulirus interruptus).

Isabel Island, in the Mexican Pacific ocean. © Mauricio Cortés

Installing a casita off Isabel Island © Mauricio Cortés

In coordination with Seacology, eight fishing cooperatives created a voluntary no-fishing zone of 741 acres. The local NGO Pronatura Noroeste A.C. has been our partner in this project, which started in 2018 and was completed a year later. The project began with the installation of mooring and signaling buoys to protect the coral reefs from anchors dropped by fishing or tourist boats. Following this, our partners installed casitas to provide refuge to lobsters as well as other marine species.

Importantly, these projects are led by the same fishermen who benefit from the marine resources they are now actively protecting. With these partnerships we hope to inspire more people to see, not only in Mexico but around the world, that sustainable fisheries can bring long-term benefits to all. Through relatively simple interventions like locally managed marine reserves and providing supplemental habitats like casitas, we can help preserve the livelihoods of present and future coastal and island communities, along with all of the surrounding ecosystems.

Field Representative Marisol Rueda Flores has led Seacology’s projects in Mexico since 2016.

P. interruptus © Magnus Kjaergaard

P. argus © Douglas Whitaker