As was agreed, five fishing priority areas have been established and demarcated by land-based signs.
These areas include the northern two thirds of the Anse Chastanet Bay, the northern end of the Soufriere Bay (from Hummingbird Beach Resort to the Soufriere River), south Soufriere Bay (from the southern jetty to the end of the rubble beach), Malgretoute (north and south of a central yacht mooring area), Anse des Pitons (Jalousie Bay), and the entire Anse L’Ivrogne Bay. Implementation of the Agreement involved major changes for both the yachting and fisheries user groups.
Due to the serious animosity which had developed between these two groups (prior to the consultation), particularly over the placement of a yachting jetty centrally in the Soufriere bay and lost catches due to yachts moored in the northern corner of the bay, known as the Hummingbird area, the negotiation process had to settle for physical separation of seining and yacht mooring areas. Thus yachts were relocated from traditional anchorages (such as the Hummingbird Resort area) to alternative mooring sites provided in places such as Malgretoute and north of Anse Chastanet. This arrangement was based on the SMMA ensuring that adequate security and support facilities were provided in the new mooring sites. Thus yachts and other boats were no longer a hindrance to the fishers operating in the fishing priority areas. The changes have however proven detrimental to the yachting community and the local tourism businesses which depend heavily on the presence of this user group.
During the later part of 1995 pot and bottom net fishers operating within the new management system started complaining of severe declines in their catches as they could effectively only set these gears in multiple use areas. The multiple use areas mainly comprised sand, reef patch, and boulder substrates with very little concentrated reef habitat. As a result of this, the fishers were encroaching further into marine reserve areas, which are rich in reef habitat. The steep slope of Soufriere’s submarine shelf severely limited the distance from shore for the installation of the demarcation buoys. Due to decompression limits facing the divers undertaking installation, these could only be placed in water depths down to 80 feet. Despite the “understanding” that the buoys merely marked the extent of the reserve along the coast, not their seaward limit (which was the outermost extent of the reef habitat) and the fact that fishers had been instructed by SMMA officers that they could fish up to 300 feet from the buoyed boundaries, this proved to be an imprecise limit which posed serious problems for both fishers and enforcement agencies.
An attempt in early 1997 to mitigate the situation by allowing a select number of fish pot and bottom gillnet fishers (who are heavily dependent on this type of fishing for food or income generation) access to specific parts of two of the reserves, and use of limited number of their gears, failed.
In December 1997, the Cabinet of Ministers decided to open part of the Grand Caille Marine Reserve for pot fishing only. In the same conclusion a monthly stipend of EC$ 400.00 for a group of 20 pot- and gillnet fishers was granted for the period of one year, as compensation for the loss of access to productive fishing grounds due to SMMA zoning.
With funding from the French Mission for Technical Cooperation a fish landing site was constructed jointly by the Soufriere Foundation and the Government of St. Lucia. Even though not fully operational, the facility was inaugurated in September 1996. A long process, including better involvement of the fishermen in the planning process and continued improvement of the facility, led to its final acceptance and subsequent use by the fishermen in May 1998.
As part of the FFEM project, a jetty adjacent to the fish landing site was constructed and an ice-machine was purchased and installed in 1998 to further strengthen the Fishermen’s Cooperative.
Under the same scheme, funds were provided for the purchase of all gillnets in the Soufriere area. Gillnets are presumed to be destructive to the coral reef habitat, hence gillnets were banned in the SMMA in August 1998.
Recognizing the disadvantage of the Soufriere fishermen, being furthest away from migratory routes of coastal pelagics, two Fish Aggregating Devices (FADs) were installed a few miles off Grand Caille Point and Gros Piton Point in depths between 1000 and 1500 meters. Only a couple of days later the devices were lost. Because too little effort was undertaken in educating the fishermen about the FADs, it is suspected that suspicious individuals cut the devices. Following a comprehensive public awareness campaign to sensitize the fishermen about their benefits, which included community meetings, radio and TV programmes, and the production of signs and flyers, the FADs were replaced. Because of their recent success (abundance of big pelagic fish species providing increased catches and attractive off shore dive sites), new conflicts over the use of the FADs occurred between commercial fishermen, sport fishers and divers.
To initiate a progressive shift from near-shore to deep-sea fishing, arrangements are also presently being finalized to provide easy accessible loans for the Soufriere fishermen for the purchase of appropriate vessels, outboard engines and deep-sea fishing gear.