ONE week after a fisherman and two activists were arrested for protesting without permission, the fishing community is now in talks with the trade union movement and yesterday declared an intention to defy police warnings and continue to protest.
Last Tuesday, La Brea fisherman Wayne Henry, environmentalist Cathal Healy-Singh and head of Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) Gary Aboud were hauled off the Port of Spain Waterfront in handcuffs after refusing to wrap up a protest with dozens of fisherfolk and activists, all concerned about the effects of seismic testing on marine life.
The protesters are arguing that seismic testing by energy companies looking for more oil and gas is literally destroying fish, their young and eggs and even large marine mammals, like the Gulf of Paria’s dolphin visitors.
Claiming a threat to their livelihood, the fisherfolk said they are witnessing significant declines in local stock.
They are calling on the Government to issue a moratorium on seismic testing while creating a regulatory framework that will include making it mandatory for companies to submit an independently-conducted Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) before testing.
Aboud and the others re-visited the Waterfront for a press conference yesterday, where they vowed not to be intimidated.
“We declare that it is the right of every citizen in this country, every citizen, to picket and we will picket again and again without notifying the police, and without seeking the (Police) Commissioner’s approval because it is our right under our constitution,” Aboud said, with a less intense police presence seen yesterday than at previous events staged by the FFOS.
“It is a precedent that has been set and we have a reasonable expectation that we should be allowed, in a peaceful, lawful, manner to picket any Government agency whenever we choose.”
Aboud said the precedent has already been set by trade unions and FFOS itself has staged 52 picket demonstrations and candle-light vigils over the past 16 years.
“What is different now?” Aboud asked.
“By violently dispersing our picket event, the police have threatened every trade union, organisation worker, NGO and citizen who wishes to picket as means of highlighting a cause. We declare that is the right of every citizen to peacefully picket.”
Aboud said several ways forward are now on the drawing board for the movement, among them discussions with trade unions that have pledged solidarity and plans to engage religious organistions.
The fisherfolk have also been approached by a number of attorneys and are considering their options, Aboud said.
Adding that the Government is being irresponsible in its approach, Aboud said local knowledge has suggested a decline of up to 70 per cent of the catch rate since 2000, when documented seismic bombings began.
The fisherfolk have also accused Petrotrin of trying to mislead the public by dissemination of unsubstantiated and biased data that claims there are no notable negative effects to seismic testing.
Petrotrin is expected to address this and its “Ocean Bottom Cable” seismic survey, planned for the Gulf of Paria, at a press conference at its Queen’s Park West corporate headquarters today.