Oracabessa has always been a fishing village.
Even in its heyday as a major banana shipping port from the 1920s to 1960s, fishermen were the backbone of providing a sustainable livelihood to families in the area. Even now as tourism is poised to pick up where bananas left off decades ago, fisherfolk continue to play an important and vibrant role in the well-being of the Oracabessa community. Unfortunately, the job of fishermen is getting harder every day.
Jamaica has some of the most depleted fish stocks of any country in the world, and Oracabessa Bay is no different. As little as 25 years ago you could make your way down to Fisherman's Beach and have no problem getting your hands on an eight, 10 or even 15 pound snapper. Today, 10 pound snappers are about as plentiful as mermaids and unicorns.
In addition to a reduction in the size of the fish population, fishers are forced to fish closer to the reef and take the species of fish (parrot, surgeon) that are critical to sustaining the health of the reef itself. When that happens, the reef itself is being harvested and it is only a matter of time before the entire ecosystem collapses.
But there is hope! Since 2010 the Oracabessa Foundation has partnered with the Oracabessa Fisherman’s Group to form the Oracabessa Bay Fish Sanctuary. The goal of the Sanctuary is to protect and restore Oracabessa Bay’s natural resources while serving as a catalyst to ensure the sustainable livelihoods of the families that depend on the Bay for their income.
Contrary to conventional wisdom nobody is more concerned about (and ready to stop) the decline in local fish stocks than local fishers. Sure, there are disagreements about how to implement proposed solutions but when push comes to shove everybody knows that something must be done or their way of life is going to disappear like the last banana boat leaving the port. Success is by no means guaranteed. And it would be a lie to say the process was anything but long, slow and at times frustrating.
But the Oracabessa Bay Fish Sanctuary has seen tremendous success. Between May 2010 and May 2014 there have been the following increases:
And at the very least there is a committed group of fishers who are going to do everything in their power to sustain their livelihoods by "giving the fish some time to sleep.”