Both the Police and the Coast Guard were called out to quell a mid-morning protest that was staged simultaneously on land and sea, yesterday, by the lobby group Fishermen and Friends of the Sea.
The protest took place in waters off the International Waterfront, Port of Spain, where both the Parliament and the Ministry of Energy are located. It highlighted the fisherfolks’ objection to plans by Petrotrin to conduct a seismic survey in the Gulf, which, they say, will devastate fish stock and affect their livelihood.
The protest which started around 10 a.m., with more than 20 pirogues participating, was allowed to go on uninterrupted for more than an hour as the fishermen, who came from as far as Cedros, Icacos, Claxton Bay and as close by as Sea Lots and Carenage manoeuvred their boats, circling the waters between the Port of Spain water taxi terminal and the Hyatt hotel.
Armed with horns which they tooted loudly and signs on the boats which stated “Government non-policy murdering our environment” and “seismic surveys collapsing our fisheries” the fishermen shouted no seismic survey repeatedly.
Speaking with the media about the group’s objection to the survey secretary of the lobby group Gary Aboud told the Express “All we are saying is do an environmental impact assessment. We want proper studies to be done before granting a Certificate of Environmental Clearance. The Environmental Management Authority (EMA) is granting them the approval without doing the environmental safe guards. That is all we are saying. Just apply the environmental safe guards.”
“They have been doing seismic surveys in these waters since the 1990s but we are only now getting scientific and technical data from other countries and how they are regulating it so we just asking for the same here. They (Petrotrin) announced last week that they were starting on November the 1st is only today they come and announce that they are starting in December,” Aboud said as the fishermen continued their protest in the background.
However, as the boats were brought closer to the sea wall docking to allow for members of the various fishing associations on the boats to voice their concerns to those also protesting on land the police, who were there from the beginning keeping a close watch, approached Aboud and told him that they could not stay there since they had no permission to gather there.
The Coast Guard arrived shortly after and the men at the helm of the pirogues were forced to take their boats further out to sea on the command of the Coast Guard sailors.
On Wednesday state-owned Petrotrin issued a statement defending the survey, stating that only two per cent will be restricted during the seismic survey. The survey is expected to begin in December, and will continue 24 hours a day for five months.
In its statement Petrotrin stated that the Ocean Bottom Cable (OBC) survey “will be employing improved technology utilising the discharge of compressed air to generate pulses for recording. No explosives are being used. Available research has indicated that the sound produced during similar surveys is comparable to many naturally occurring marine sounds and that the impact on fish is minimal and short term.
In some instances, the fish in the immediate vicinity of the emitting device move to lower depths resulting in an increased fish catch thereafter” the release stated.
The company stated that fisherfolk will have access to 98 per cent of the survey area (510 square kilometres) and at any time, only an area of 12 square kilometres will be restricted.
“Despite claims that Petrotrin offshore infrastructure has negatively impacted the fishing community, evidence has shown that the company 26 platforms and all the supporting structures in the Trinmar marine area encourage the aggregation of fish.
There is no conclusive evidence to support the claim that the proposed seismic survey, using the modern techniques, will have a negative impact on fisheries”, the State-owned company stated.