Chief Fisheries Officer Stephen Willoughby has pointed to illegal fishing practices as one of the biggest threats to the sustainability of the region’s fisheries sector.
Addressing the closing ceremony of a four-week Fisheries Prosecution and Interdiction Course hosted by the Regional Security System (RSS) on Friday, Willougby said illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing undermine the sovereign rights and responsibilities of coastal states to explore, conserve and manage those marine resources in areas under national jurisdiction as provided by the 1982 United Nations Convention of the Law of the Seas.
He cited fishing by unregistered vessels, fishing without licences or permits, failure to report catches, fishing in prohibited areas, and a disregard of closed seasons as some examples of the practice.
“IUU fishing is motivated by high demand for fish and the tremendous economic benefit from IUU catches [and] inadequate monitoring control and surveillance systems,” he said.
He added that many states in the region lack the capacity and resources to detect illegal fishing in their waters and apprehend the perpetrators.
According to him the low penalties currently being imposed are not effective in deterring illegal fishing.
“Because the guys are arrested, taken before the court, they pay the small fine, they are released, and they’ve gone back IUU fishing. And by the time they’re finished they’ve made triple or more than the fine that they had to pay. So it’s not really a deterrent,” Willoughby stated.
He warned the graduating class at the RSS headquarters at Paragon that they will face a tough fight in combating IUU fishing.
“There’s no quick fix to combating IUU fishing. It requires a holistic integrated approach, commitment of funds, capacity building of stakeholders, especially our fishers and our enforcement officers,” he said.
Regional Maritime Officer at the RSS, Lieutenant (Coast Guard) Rolerick Sobers said the course was timely since authorities are dealing with increased numbers of fisheries-related offences.
“We’re dealing with more legal matters and more fisheries management matters, but it all connects to the role of the law enforcement officer and of course there is always that opportunity to stop and interrupt … illegal activity out there. And we’re well aware that the fisheries sector has been used and in the future will continue to be used as a medium for the perpetrators of maritime crimes at sea to get their products where they want to get them,” Sobers said.
The course was funded by the RSS in partnership with the 10th European Development Fund Project.
Participants included law enforcement officers from Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, Dominica, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia and St Vincent and the Grenadines, as well as representatives from the Barbados Fisheries Division.
Sergeant Joeffrey James of the Commonwealth of Dominica Police Force received the award for best student. (MCW)