ACTIVIST group Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) has accused the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard and Fisheries Division of the Ministry of Land and Marine Resources of playing football with an incident two weeks ago (December 6), when a group of trawlers was operating illegally on Trinidad’s north coast.
FFOS said the trawlers were intercepted by the Coast Guard after “literally dozens of complaints” from game and commercial fishermen over a two-month period.
The illegal activities of the trawlers, which FFOS said have been operating in restricted areas and out of the designated period allowed for that type of activity, have caused large-scale destruction of spawning beds.
Gary Aboud, secretary of FFOS, told the Express fishermen who rely on the north coast will now suffer the consequences of destruction due to trawling, while the offenders appear to have been let off with nothing but a warning from the Coast Guard.
After more than a week, Aboud said, no charges have been pressed against the captains of the vessels.
However, Coast Guard media relations officer Lt Commander Kirk Jean-Baptiste told the Express last week the matter now rests with the Fisheries Division, as is often the case.
Jean-Baptise said members of the Coast Guard accompanied personnel from the Fisheries Division to speak to the captains of three trawlers.
The captains were warned and guided away from the restricted Saut d’Eau area, but the paperwork to lay charges must come from the Fisheries Division, Jean-Baptiste said.
“Nobody was arrested and the matter is now in the hands of ‘Fisheries’,” Jean-Baptiste said.
Aboud said it is “suspicious” the trawlers were allowed to leave without legal action from the Coast Guard, nor has there been word on the illegal catch that would have been on board the vessels.
The regular practice was that the captains would have faced charges the next day in the Magistrates’ Court, Aboud said.
“Further, our enquiries at Fisheries led to us being told that the Division did not possess a copy of the relevant stakeholders agreement, signed by up to 18 stakeholders, which made that type of activity illegal, and therefore it could not enforce the law.”
Aboud said by-catch from the illegal activities had been seen floating on the water for weeks, with the worst-affected stocks being salmon and red fish banks, where “tens of millions of juveniles are being killed and discarded as waste”.
“We are at this time inclined to consider that there might have been political interference in due process, with regard to the lenient manner in which the illegal trawlers were treated,” Aboud added.
In 2013, Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj announced he had mandated a ban on trawling for non-artisanal trawlers; the implementation of a closed season for trawling activities; an amendment of regulations governing the Fisheries Act; and the appointment of a multi-sectorial committee to consider a relief package which can be offered to displaced fishers who will be affected by the change in legislation and the ban on trawling.
The Fisheries Division could not, up to Wednesday, provide an update on its treatment of the matter.