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Fishy feud

Tobago fisherfolk head frets over fishing agreement process

by Emmanuel Joseph
5 min read
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The Tobago Fisherfolk Association has complained about the approach being taken by the governments of Barbados and Trinidad and Tobago in pursuing a new fishing agreement, according to the association’s president, Curtis Douglas.

At the centre of the latest development is an announcement by Foreign Minister Kerrie Symmonds of plans to obtain a specialised research vessel this year to pave the way for a formal fishing agreement with Trinidad and Tobago. Funds have been allocated in the government’s appropriation for the new fiscal year that begins on April 1 to lease the vessel needed for a comprehensive study of the sub-region’s fishing stock.

In an interview with Barbados TODAY, Douglas expressed frustration that his organisation has been excluded from plans to procure a research vessel for studying the sub-region’s fish stock. He said: “I am quite troubled by the uncertainty of the bilateral arrangements to achieve that goal [of a new agreement]. No one contacted me or my organisation to have an input in such a research or scientific boat.”

But Barbados TODAY has learned that the research vessel is part of a regional plan to assist in the location and assessment of the fish stocks and not a bilateral deal.

A five-year management plan for flying fish covering the Eastern Caribbean from Dominica south to Grenada and Tobago, called the ECFFMP, is due to expire in 2025. Barbados TODAY has learned that the study on flying fish can only be done in a long-term, multi-year process. This roadmap to sustainable fishing involves all the countries that use flying fish in one form or another, whether for bait or for sale.

“[This is not] a six-month or one-year study,” said one expert.

Trinidad and Tobago chose the Chief Secretary of the Tobago House of Assembly, Farley Chavez Augustine – the island’s highest-ranking government official – along with Tobago fisheries officer to lead Tobago’s contingent to the latest talks between the two countries on November 2 last year, according to a joint statement issued at the meeting’s conclusion.

Douglas was not listed among the Tobagonian attendees. Barbadian fisherfolk were represented by Vernel Nicholls, President of the Barbados National Union of Fisherfolk Organisations (BARNUFO).

It was at that meeting that the earliest reference to a mechanism for measuring the elusive flying fish stocks was broached.

The two CARICOM neighbours said then: “The talks were cordial and productive, with the two sides exchanging views on a number of significant issues, including the operationalisation of a collaborative research regime that would see the conduct of a sub-regional fish stock assessment with a focus on flying fish and associated species. Crucially, the two countries also indicated their desire to enter negotiations towards the conclusion of a new fishing agreement in the future.”

The Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM), an agency of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) Secretariat, drew up the 2020-2025 ECFFMP which regional governments had endorsed.

Barbados TODAY was informed that the CRFM proposed to have a research vessel come to the Eastern Caribbean to conduct a stock assessment – an idea that regional officials backed, citing limitations on relying on the landing site data from several countries on catch levels and fishing effort.

In Tobago, Douglas insisted that the key issue is the flying fish species: “It’s the flying fish that attack other pelagic species. As a senior minister, one would know you have timelines and guidelines if you want to achieve certain things. He [Symmonds] hasn’t specified whether Bajan fisherfolk will still be entering our waters and catching the flying fish without the stipulated arrangement.”

Douglas argued that it is not Trinidad and Tobago violating other nations’ waters, saying: “We are not the ones. If we intend to work together as one Caribbean, we should have settled.” 

He suggested establishing an interim agreement before procuring the research boat, given the current flying fish season. It was not immediately clear what impact the presence of a research vessel would have on the fishing season.

“You must agree on how many Bajan boats are coming into Tobago; and we must agree while the research is going on, that we would have 10 Bajan boats at one given time in the interim…So, we now have data…and when you reach Barbados, we must be able to ascertain that data to see how much flying fish is landing from Tobago waters in Barbados,” Douglas suggested.

He also contended that the data gleaned on both sides would be enough to compare the fish stock, suggesting a research vessel would be unnecessary.

“So, when you come in, you check through customs, and when you leave, we know how many pounds of flying fish you are hauling back to Barbados. So, we now have data…and when you reach Barbados, we must be able to ascertain that data to see how much flying is landing from Tobago waters in Barbados. So, there is where it starts. We don’t need a boat to start doing that.”

Senior Minister Symmonds on Friday promised to provide an update on the procurement of the research vessel. (EJ/BT)

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