Monday, January 22, 2018

'Fishermen and Friends' want end to trawling

Group relieved as minister calls it outdated

LOCAL environmental activist group Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) has said its members are "relieved" that Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj views trawling as an outdated method of fishing.

The group has for years fought for trawling to be outlawed in local waters, citing the decimation of fish and shrimp grounds, the destruction of breeding areas, the capture of some endangered marine life and fish too young for the market and the decimation of the local shark population.

The group was responding to a story in last week's Sunday Express, in which local trawlers said they would entertain negotiations for a State buyout.

The Trawlers Association of Trinidad and Tobago said the business had become unprofitable due to a variety of challenges, among them restrictions on the amount of fuel they were allowed to purchase and competition from Eastern trawlers and imported seafood on the market.

Association president, Shaffi Mohammed, said the fuel problems began after the State looked to clamp down in the illegal bunkering of subsidised fuel.

The local trawlers said illegal bunkering is still taking place in their area of Orange Valley, and they are not allowed to buy more than 100 litres of diesel at a time to power their boats.

Imported seafood is also being sold in the markets as local catch at much lowers prices, Mohammed said, while local fishermen and vendors struggle with poor facilities and rising costs of operations.

Territory was also a battle, they said, as fishing grounds are divided up buffer zones for oil rigs and must be shared with a fleet of Eastern trawlers.

Maharaj said last week he was interested in having dialogue with the trawlers and that he viewed trawling to be "prehistoric".

He said this type of fishing was the "rape of the sea" and had been allowed to flourish for too long in local waters.

Maharaj said it would be considered progressive if Trinidad and Tobago were to follow the environmental footsteps of countries like neighbouring Belize, which became one of the first countries in the world to buy out its trawling industry and ban the practice in Belizean waters.

This has come as good news to FFOS but Gary Aboud of the group was not convinced that the trawlers are sincerely distressed by the issues they are claiming.

"Now that several shrimp trawlers have been caught red-handed in the middle of the illegal fuel bunkering fiasco, and now that even the shrimp grounds have been scraped and reduced to a wasteland by trawlers themselves, it is convenient that the trawler association should be seeking compensation," Aboud said in a letter to the Sunday Express last week.

"They must be reminded, however, that the degradation is of their own making."

Many believe trawling to be a modern introduction to fishing in a manner that meets the world's increasing demand for food.

Trawling has been practised around the world for over 700 years and has, from its inception, met solid opposition from those concerned with the degradation of the marine environment and the over-consumption of marine resources.

Trawling in Trinidad and Tobago waters has grown beyond a small local trawling community to include deep sea trawlers from China and Indonesia, countries with huge demands for exotic seafoods and shark meat.

Bottom trawling refers to the process of dragging a net, which can span for miles, along the sea floor.

This scrapes most of the life along the sea bed as it gathers everything in the water in its path.

Smaller trawling nets can be hauled manually, while larger ones are reeled in mechanically.

Depending on the size of the net, a single haul can yield up to 15,000 pounds of by-catch than can include turtles (all turtles are classed as endangered), dolphins and young fish and shrimp.

As early as 1376, there is a record in the British Parliament of a petition calling for the prohibition of trawling, the mechanisms of which was referred to as the "wondyrchoum", a wooden beam trawl and net.

With the modernisation of the process, as much as 500,000 pounds of catch can be hauled in every month from small territories such as Trinidad and Tobago's fishing grounds.