The Banco Chinchorro and Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserves are located on the coast of the Mexican State of Quintana Roo, the cradle of the Mayan civilization. These two marine areas, complex systems of beaches, small bays, and mangrove forests, provide important habitat for many animal and plant species typical of the Caribbean.
This extraordinarily beautiful ecosystem has great biological and cultural richness and is part of the Mesoamerican Barrier Reef, the second largest barrier reef in the world. It is home to the Caribbean spiny lobster (Panulirus argus), known in the Mayan language as chakay (“red fish”). This species, which is endemic to the wider Caribbean, lives in the crystalline waters of the reef at depths up to 100 meters, and feeds primarily on small mollusks. It has a rigid, spiny, brown shell with yellow and black spots; five pairs of legs but no claws; and four antennae. This crustacean is characterized by a particularly complex development cycle: over the course of 20 months it goes through eleven stages, from egg, through several larval stages, to adulthood. For each stage, the lobster lives at a different depth and distance from the shore. As an adult, it has a tail length of 13.5 to 14 centimeters.
The Spiny lobster fishery, which is legally open off the coast of Quintana Roo from July 1st to February 28th, is the primary source of income for artisanal fishers in the region. Six groups of fishers have replaced the use of hooks and nets with snares and loops, that avoid bycatch of other species. Moreover, they have introduced a selective, sustainable technique, based on the collective management of the seafloor and the use of artificial shelters called casitas. The fishers, working in pairs, free dive to fish the lobsters from natural refuges and artificial shelters. The lobsters are sold whole, and usually alive. They are a favorite of local cooks who prepare them into a traditional ceviche by marinating the raw lobster meat in lemon juice.
The Presidium consists of six fishing cooperatives that have adopted sustainable and selective techniques, and have exclusive fishing concessions within the Banco Chinchorro and Sian Ka’an Biosphere Reserves. To improve marketing, the fishing cooperatives, mentored by the Mexican association Colectividad Razonatura and the CONABIO and CONANP public institutions, have created the collective brand “Chakay”, which is based on the adoption of self-imposed sustainable fishing practices. The use of a collective brand and a traceability system that guarantee for the good practices brings an added value on the market that can benefit the livelihoods of fisherfolks.
The Presidium, formed in 2017 under the auspices of Slow Fish Caribe project, seeks to promote and support sustainable artisanal fishing methods, such as the Chakay method, and its positioning on the market in order to increase the consumption of spiny lobster from the two Biosphere Reserves in Quintana Roo’s restaurants. It also aims at creating a dialogue between spiny lobster fishers and fishers of other species endemic to the Caribbean, in order to spread good practices throughout the region.
Banco Chinchorro and Sian Ka’an Biosphere reserves, state of Quintana Roo, Mexico.
219 fishermen in 6 cooperatives (SCPP Cozumel – María Elena, Sian Ka’an, SCPP José María Azcorra – Punta Herrero, Sian Ka’an, SCPP Vigía Chico – Punta Allen, Sian Ka’an, SCPP Andrés Quintana Roo – Banco Chinchorro y Xcalak, SCPP Langosteros del Caribe – Banco Chinchorro, SCPP Banco Chinchorro – Banco Chinchorro).