For 70 years, Brazil’s spiny lobsters have been an important export product, destined mainly for the US market. But, the fishery is now close to collapse due to illegal destructive fishing.

Using around 2,000 boats, illegal operators now dominate the fishery, either fishing without licences or using illegal fishing gear/techniques such as gillnets and compressor diving.

The 580 artisanal vessels, of which 500 are sailboats called jangadas, using lobster traps, have stopped fishing fearing for the future of their livelihoods. Exports are set to drop from 2,500 tons of tails in 2010 to less then 1,000 this year. If stocks don’t recover 10,000 fishers are likely to be out of jobs in 2013.

Available data indicates that stocks are in danger. Thanks to poor management and enforcement over the last 20 years, overfishing and destructive fishing have been allowed to continue with impunity. Scientists cannot predict the point of no return, but people pray that Brazil’s lobster will not repeat what happened to cod in Canada 20 years ago. There the fishery collapsed, putting 30,000 fishworkers out of work and the stocks have not recovered.

On October 30 fishers sent a letter to President Dilma Roussef asking her to close the lobster fishery until at least April 31 2014 in order to give the government and the fishing sector time to revise fisheries management, invest in research and data collection and set up an enforcement system that works. The 18-month closure will give the lobster population a chance to recover from decades of excess and to reproduce undisturbed.

The fishers have prepared a 10-page proposal for management changes which includes the participation of fishers in management decisions and the certification of lobsters from responsible artisanal fisheries.

Over 300 fishers and fisherwomen converged at Fortaleza, the capital of Ceará, and announced an unlimited strike, and presented their demands in public and to the media. From there they marched to the naval headquarters and asked the Navy to intervene in what has become known as the “Lobster War”.

Meanwhile, at home, sons and daughters who decided not to become fishers will activate FaceBook, Twitter and their e-mails to make sure the word gets around. Organizers of the protest will launch a worldwide campaign aimed at consumers.