The Express ran the first in a series of weekly columns submitted by the Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) on January 19. These articles seek to highlight not just local environmental issues but those which affect the population on a global scale. Questions and comments can be e-mailed to firstname.lastname@example.org
In the Trinidad Express, on Thursday June 28, there was a full page article by the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) headlined “An unrealised potential…fish farming in T&T” which has left us disturbed and pained.
According to the IMA website, it is a multi-disciplinary marine and environmental research organisation established by Act of Parliament which was established following negotiations for an agreement signed in 1974 between the Government of Trinidad and Tobago and the United Nations, through its executing agency, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). The objects of the IMA, as stated in Act of Parliament, Ch. 37:01 in the Revised Laws of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago as amended by Act No. 13 of 1990, are as follows:
• to develop and implement programmes and projects that translate the marine and related policies of the Government into activities that contribute to national development;
• to develop and execute programmes and projects that foster and encourage regional and international collaboration in the exploitation of the marine and other related areas of the environment;
• to promote a public understanding of and appreciation for all aspects of the marine-related environment;
• to stimulate and advance the conduct of marine scientific research in Trinidad and Tobago;
• to promote the utilisation and conservation of the marine resources for the economic and social benefit of Trinidad and Tobago and to enhance the national capabilities;
• to do all such things as are incidental or conducive to the attainment of the above objectives.
These are commendable objectives for such an organisation. Nowhere does the Act state that the IMA would be secretly steered, without transparency, to compete with private sector, land-based, man-made fish farming. Under who did the definition and direction of the IMA jurisdiction change? When did the IMA become unaccountable for its business of tilapia farming when the mature fish are never sold?
We maintain that the Fisheries Division is the designated entity with information on threats, opportunities and a range of subsidies, incentives and UNFAO documents on man-made fish. The Fisheries Division has even funded a private sector competitor, the Seafood Industry Development Company (SIDC) which also grow subsidised tilapia for free distribution. There is little doubt that fish farming on land is the jurisdiction of the Fisheries Division of the Ministry of Agriculture. Shouldn’t the IMA, then, be strengthening its efforts to sustain the “unrealised potential” of the wild fishery, rather than navigating away from their legally defined scope of responsibility and into an area where, without consultation, taxpayers’ funds are at risk of going down the drain? For the tens of millions of dollars already plunged into fish farming by the IMA, can the board of the IMA, or the SIDC explain why tilapia from emptied ponds are given away, instead of being sold? Shouldn’t the countless millions spent on tilapia experiments have instead been spent on preserving and conserving our marine resources?
Has the IMA strayed from its mandate? Should the direction of such an invaluable unit not be open to primary stakeholder recommendations? Is it advised that the IMA continue to operate under the shroud of secrecy under which the last administration prohibited all annual research symposiums? Is the IMA now justified in following the failed examples of Jamaica’s contaminated and overfished seas? Why does Jamaica continue to fail in its efforts to promote tilapia, and why are several of its misleadingly-touted facilities closing after sustained economic losses? Instead, should the IMA not be leading Trinidad and Tobago deep into specific research to promote and ensure sustainability of our Orinoco-fed plankton-rich fishery?
Although the IMA are correct when they publish that “globally, aquaculture is projected to surpass fisheries as a major food fish source”, does that statement exonerate the failed efforts of our local Fisheries Division, and our failed IMA consultants, who apparently have given up on the wild fishery? Have Trinidad and Tobago’s Institutes, Divisions or Governments done all that is possible to create a sustained fishery? Has any Government shown any initiative in developing the unrealised potential of the wild fishery, more than the cosmetic building and painting of badly maintained fishing facilities in areas where the wild fishery is being driven to the brink of collapse? Decade after decade, we have never had a Minister who understood the difference between a pelasse and a walliac, or a pargue and a boche, or “a-la-vive” and palang, or sustainability and environmental bankruptcy. After years of teething, we felt encouraged by the former minister. How long will it take the new Minister to learn the basics of this complex sector?
With the apparent and misinformed IMA abandonment of the wild fishery, we fear for the future impact of the IMA’s touted “unrealised potential” for the 50,000 (mostly landless), estimated employed in the fishery sector.