UNFORTUNATELY the debate on the hunting and trawling bans is neither fish nor fowl. There are strong opinions on all sides, and merit all around. But, when isolated as a discussion on the guillotine nature of government policy, and imposed without a plan for the livelihood fallout, the bans look different.
I support sustainability. But, whatever the merits in limiting wildlife hunting and the damage caused by industrial “Type 4” shrimp trawlers, the Government has a responsibility of fairness to those who depend on these activities to feed themselves and their families, and sustain their communities.
These new proposals are not about enforcing existing bans. Both wildlife hunting and shrimp trawling are legal activities, within certain limits. In the case of hunting, the wildlife legislation creates an open hunting period, places restrictions of certain species, and empowers the relevant minister to place other restrictions, including geographic limitations.
In the case of shrimp trawling, governments have been pressured to change the 1916 fisheries legislation and also bring both the law and government policy in line with various international and local agreements relating to fisheries and conservation. Shrimp trawling is governed by 1996 and 1998 regulations, made under the Fisheries Act.
The 1998 regulations are critical to limiting the impact of industrial shrimp trawlers, especially on the North Coast where trawling at night is banned. No government has stepped up to modernise the Fisheries Act and what we still have is a draft bill to create a Fisheries Management Act.
The Government’s move to ban wildlife hunting immediately and restrict trawling took me back to the UNC’s approach in July 2007 to the PNM’s proposal on slot machines. In proposing the ban, then senator Conrad Enill said it was intended to “reinforce Government’s position on casinos”, and effect other changes to the local gaming industry.
In response, then leader of the opposition Kamla Persad-Bissessar ensured that casino employee Cindy Gibbs Nicholas was sworn in as a senator. After Nicholas’ stirring contribution in the Senate on the PNM’s proposal, Enill made it clear that the government intended to continue dialogue with the gaming industry. It appears that both the dialogue and the contribution of Nicholas worked. Current Minister of Finance Larry Howai is still contemplating changes to the gaming industry. Today the industry has grown, spreading across the country, most likely creating more jobs than the 7,000 Nicholas said it created in 2007, and continuing to employ the ordinary people she said the industry employed.
But the UNC’s opposition to the slot machines and casino proposals was not a sign of approval of the gaming industry. Then, like now, casinos were flagged as potential contributors to money laundering, terrorist financing, and human trafficking. The industry continues to attract attention for its impact on the society, the way disposable income is managed and debt incurred, and the wider social implications relating to addictive behaviours. Still, the UNC recognised the potential jobs fallout, made sure gaming had its say and the PNM politicians backed off.
The Partnership Government should be taking the same approach to its policy on wildlife hunting and shrimp trawling. Both are employers. Both are problematic. Notwithstanding the alleged reduction in the wildlife count and the risks to various species, the fact is that the open season is critical to certain communities where skills and opportunities for livelihood are limited. Whatever the justification for a wildlife ban, no government can justify the overnight guillotining of the livelihood of the people who rely on hunting.
Now, without the hunters in the forests, the areas will become very attractive for marijuana cultivation and other illegal activities. We can expect an increase in the setting and use of trap guns, as hunters rely on this method to limit the chances of being caught in the act. And the closed season black market will become a year-round business and increase the contraband wild meat coming over the coastline.
The ban on the shrimp trawlers is somewhat different. As justifiable and long overdue as the policy is, the Government must be more open and transparent in its dealings with the people likely affected by the changes. The starting point for the discussion is in the Parliament, during the debate on the proposed legislative changes to the Fisheries Act.
Since the 2011 draft bill proposes a board to support the minister in developing fisheries policy, that advisory group should be put in place representing, as is proposed, a cross-section of fisheries interests. These changes are long overdue. They are absolutely necessary in order to strike the right balance between destructive industrial trawlers and the fisherfolk who require sustainable fishing ground near-shore. But no government should make such drastic changes to livelihoods without first changing the law and giving the local industrial trawler operators an opportunity to adjust.
In the wake of the crime surges the Partnership rushed to put $300 million into “Colour Me Orange’’. In answer to the PNM plan to ban slot machines, the current PM gave the gaming industry a voice. Now, the wildlife hunters and trawling industry must be heard, if only to avoid the heavy hand of arbitrary and whimsical government.
The bans can come in after that.
(For my wife Camille. Happy Birthday!)
• Clarence Rambharat is an attorney and a university lecturer