|Photo: Cristina Mittermeier, International League of Conservation Photographers|
If you enjoy eating spiny lobster or conch, you may have a role in a tragic situation playing out in remote Miskito villages on the Caribbean coast of Honduras. Here, poorly equipped scuba divers and children, working for industrial fishing operations, venture out in small boats and dive for lobster and conch.
Some never return. Others are paralyzed.
"The boy's job is to stay in the boat and watch the diver's bubbles, to make sure they don't get separated," says ELAW Fellow Diana Vasquez.
Diana is Executive Director of the Centre for Marine Studies (CEM), based in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. She is in Eugene this summer to spread the word about the fate of Miskito divers, and build the capacity of her organization. She also participated in the Intensive English Program at the University of Oregon's American English Institute where she was a Director's Distinction Scholar.
Diana says divers don't wear buoyancy vests, their equipment is faulty, and they lack air and depth gauges. Villagers make 12 dives in one day, four times the safe amount. There are more than 100 accidents/year, many resulting in death and paralysis.
"Catching lobsters with traps in shallow water is safe, but fisheries are depleted so industrial operators employ 3,000 poorly equipped divers, for less than $2 dollars/day, to dive in deeper water," she says.
Fishing is one of the only opportunities to support a family in this remote area.
With 90% of lobster and conch exported by Honduras going to the U.S., Diana says part of the solution is educating U.S. consumers that lobster and conch caught by divers is not acceptable. CEM is working to ensure that regional trade agreements with the U.S. insist on "traceability" of seafood.
CEM is also working to expand marine protected areas that are off-limits to industrial operators, where local fishermen can use lobster traps and develop high-value small-scale fisheries.
Diana spoke about her work at a public forum last week in the ELAW Global Community Conversation series. Many thanks to Mountain Rose Herbs for serving as Lead Sponsor for ELAW Global Community Conversations. And many thanks to the American English Institute for providing ELAW Fellows with Director's Distinction Scholarships.