The Fish and Fisheries of the Turks and Caicos Islands

Dr. Narissa Bax

The last few months have seen the initiation of several project activities and have laid the building blocks for fisheries monitoring and data collection to begin across the Turks and Caicos Islands (TCI). Significantly, Mr Jessly Robinson has also joined the team as the project officer where he will manage the fisheries laboratory and fisheries database and will be working with fishers and data collectors in the field. Jessly is a Turks Islander who was raised on the small island of Middle Caicos. 
He spent much of his time on Middle Caicos fishing with friends and family and is familiar with all of the local fishery species, and fishermen. His detailed local knowledge has already proved invaluable to the project and we continue to look forward to working with Jessly.

This quarter was all about meeting and understanding the fishery stakeholders, which is an important aspect in creating a robust fisheries monitoring and data collection plan. Project staff spent a large amount of time focused on the island of Providenciales, where the fishing community is arguably the most diffuse and difficult to monitor. With the assistance of local fishers, a total of 24 regularly used landing sites were identified across the small island. Information was also collected regarding the importance of each site (how often it is used) and the peak times of day in which activity was the highest, per site. This information was used to inform a data sampling protocol which aimed to target specific landing sites at the times that were most likely to coincide with fishermen returning from sea.

Project staff spent a large amount of time in the field meeting with fishers and collecting biological and catch information where possible. The months of May and June produced a surprisingly large amount of queen conch, an important fishery species in the TCI. Fishermen reported that queen conch abundance and catch was the greatest it has been for several years and following hurricane Irma in 2017, which is widely believed to have destroyed much of the fishery. While it is extremely encouraging to see local conch catch improving, it did limit the amount of fish that were available, as fishers focused their efforts on sand bank and grass bed habitats as opposed to the reef areas where fishes are more readily caught. Nevertheless, fishers were successfully encountered and it is likely that their focus will soon turn back towards reef habitats as the lobster season opens in August. Ongoing work in June will strive to further improve the efficiency of data collection, while government data collectors will come onboard to assist from July.
A local fishermen ‘knocks’ his catch of queen conch
A day’s fishing charter produces a good catch of red snapper (Lutjanus campechanus)
By way of processing information, much of the equipment has now arrived on island and the laboratory is due to be up and running and actively processing fish otoliths in the coming months. Additionally, Jessly has been working hard to develop and trial a comprehensive new relational database which will house national fisheries data – this will be a first for the TCI. Ongoing talks have also led to the exciting new prospect of trialing vessel monitoring system software within the small scale fishery sector, which will simultaneously aid with passive data collection and provide an important safety at sea function for local fishers. Last, we are looking forward to working with SAERI GIS Officer and Database Manager Jack Ingledew as we work to develop a fisheries smartphone application to help assist with fisher self-reporting and data collection. With lots on the go, we’re looking forward to a busy but exciting time on TCI – watch this space!
One of the more secluded landing sites located on Chalk Sound. The project has identified over twenty regularly used sites on the small island of Providenciales alone!
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