Monday, January 22, 2018

Fisherfolk, activists march against ‘seismic bombings’


FRIENDS FOR ‘LIFE’: Members of the fishing community march along Frederick Street, Port of Spain on Wednesday in support of a proposal by Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj to ban some forms of trawling in Trinidad and Tobago’s waters. The fisherfolk are calling for a ban on all trawling and regulation of seismic surveying in local waters. —Photo: MICHEAL BRUCE

Mark Fraser

PRIME Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar said she will “consider” a proposal by the fishing community to regulate seismic surveying in Trinidad and Tobago’s waters, which they said is devastating marine life during peak spawning seasons.

Led by Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) and the Trinbago Unified Fisherfolk (TUFF), dozens of fisherfolk, conservation activists and sport fishermen demonstrated on Wednesday at Woodford Square and Brian Lara Promenade in Port of Spain, to call for seismic regulation and to support a proposal by Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj to ban some forms of trawling in local waters.

They are, however, calling for a total ban on all forms of trawling.

Following the first part of the rally at Woodford Square, the gathering marched downtown to the Promenade, bearing placards and chanting slogans against trawling and “seismic bombing”.

They gathered on the Promenade and a group of six went on to the Parliament building at the International Waterfront Centre, Wrightson Road, where Persad-Bissessar was given a letter outlining their concerns. The Prime Minister accepted the letter during a brief meeting and told the group she will consider their proposal.

Maharaj also spoke to the group and said he is in support of regulating the surveys, but making such a change could take years.

Seismic surveys are tests carried out by energy companies in the search for more resources and are often conducted with the use of dynamite, to generate the necessary seismic vibrations.

While some dispute any negative effects on marine life, numerous studies have shown that the vibrations often cause fatal disorientation in some species, such as dolphins, cause fish shoals to stampede, can disrupt the spawning process, kill fish larvae and in some instances cause the innards of certain fish species to explode.

The groups were in praise of the Government’s efforts so far to positively impact the environment, but said they intend to keep up a visible demonstration until the policy on seismic surveys is changed.

“We have foreign companies coming to our shores and conducting these surveys unchecked, affecting our local fishermen, when they could not do that in their own countries because of better regulation,” said FFOS head Gary Aboud.

Trinidad’s waters are also fished extensively by foreign trawlers, which the local fishing community said has left many sea beds—and even mangrove spawning grounds—in a barren state.

Some types of trawlers also dig up to six inches into the sea bed in the hunt for shrimp, dragging up young marine life that is later discarded as by-catch.

“We want a total ban on trawling, not a partial one,” said Kishore Boodram, head of the Claxton Bay Fishing Association and a member of TUFF.

“Years of dragging our sea beds and mangrove have finally taken a toll. There is barely a fish in our waters. This is not a concern that is only about fisherfolk, Trinidad and Tobago consumes a lot of fish and this is an issue that affects the entire nation.”

Both TUFF and FFOS have  asked Maharaj to host open discussions on adequate compensation for those who will be affected by a trawling ban, which could amount to about 5,000 fisherfolk and vendors.

Last year, the Orange Valley Fishing Association, of which several local trawlers are members, told the Express they had asked Government to “buy out” their fleet.

“Everyone looks at us like we are villains but people must understand that most of us were born into trawling and this is what we know,” said Shaffie Mohammed, head of the association.

“This is our living. And at the end of the day, we can no longer compete with the foreign trawlers in our own waters or the foreign shrimp being brought in and sold alongside ours. They are outstripping us. We want the Government to buy us out, as the governments have in countries like Belize and Venezuela. We just have to be properly compensated.”

Some trawlers and fish vendors held fiery protests in Orange Valley last week to protest the intended restrictions, but Mohammed said the main problem was that the community was taken by surprise by Maharaj’s declaration, as they had not been consulted.