Saturday 22 September, 2018

FFOS demands action after shrimp trawlers spotted on North Coast

Conservation group Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) is demanding that more be done to stop illegal trawling in the country's waters after photos of alleged illegal shrimp trawlers were taken over the weekend.

The group shared photos taken on Sunday, showing five shrimp trawlers approximately one half-mile off Saut d'Eau Island on the North Coast of Trinidad.

Bottom trawling is highly destructive to marine environments.

"As you can see from the picture all of the 5 trawlers are inside of the two mile protected area, and one is definitely east of Saut D'eau Island and outside the Shrimp Trawling Regulation for the  North Coast."

"The Shrimp Trawl Regulations were signed by all relevant Government agencies (including Fisheries Division and the Coast Guard)  as well as ALL fishery stakeholders (including the Shrimp Trawler Owners Association)."

"These five shrimp trawlers are openly violating the Shrimp Trawl Regulations under the watchful eyes of Government.  FFOS have made public and have reported alleged conflicts of interest within the Coast Guard itself with Officers allegedly owning trawlers while preventing the enforcement of the Shrimp Trawl Regulations."

"The Shrimp trawl regulations stated clearly that there would be a “one strike out” banning all shrimp trawling on the North Coast indefinitely if a simple trawler was successfully prosecuted for the violation."

The group said there are deficiencies which prevent law enforcement.

"To prosecute illegal trawlers who are poaching in protected areas requires a Fisheries Officer to be on board the Coast Guard vessel, and that the trawler is boarded while actually engaged in the illegal act (with its nets dragging/scraping the seabed)."

"However when the Coast Guard receives our report they often times send an aircraft to verify, and then on confirmation of the illegal act they would dispatch a marine vessel."

"However, (when the) vessel leaves the Gulf of Paria and bends the corner of the First Bocas onto the North Coast, the shrimp trawlers have sight of the approaching Coast Guard and it takes a considerable time for the Coast Guard to reach the shrimp trawlers because they are navigating against the strong east-west tidal movement, giving the shrimp trawlers more than ample time to pull their nets up."

"To compound these enforcement inefficiencies the Fisheries Act does not accept easily attainable Positioning Systems (GPS) readings from Coast Guard aerial surveillance," the group said.

FFOS: Shrimp trawlers caught then released by Coast Guard

The group said in December, after numerous reports submitted to the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard, three shrimp trawlers were boarded while caught in the illegal act while fisheries officers were on board. 

However the group said after the culprits were brought in by the Coast Guard, they were then released.

"FFOS have been looking into the matter and have been repeatedly informed by the designated Fisheries Officer who was on the Coast Guard vessel at the time of the interdiction that "legal action is in the pipeline and the legal team are working on it." Yet over 3 years has passed and the matter has not faced the Court and so has evaded the Law."

"Today, thirty seven months later, the prosecutors appear to have relinquished their duty and while we write the trawlers are once again degrading the fishery unsustainably and with impunity. Soon the matter will be debarred."

"Why was the prosecution derailed even though all of the evidence was intact?  Is it justice for some and not for others? Is there a Ministerial interference with the prosecution team?  Why does Parliament not debate the merit of legislated “whistleblower protection”? Should Officers of the Ministry of National Security be engaged and have persuasion over enforcement actions where there are clear conflicts of interest?"

"By its foot-dragging, our Government is clearly condoning unlawful conduct which is depriving fisher communities of their livelihood while decimating an entire food chain and ecosystem, critically important for over-fished migratory species."

"What hope can FFOS offer to our members whose livelihoods are being trampled upon openly and whose lives have been threatened while they stand guard of their nets and fishpots?"

"The very enforcement agencies who have sworn oaths of service to enforce the law without fear or favor, have either chosen to disregard their oath, or by their silence, are silently protecting those who have! The Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries is called to recognize the importance of the Law and of enforcement."

"Government must recognize that failing to enforce any Law weakens all Laws in every corner of our Nation. Soon the elections will come and the legacy of abandonment will continue to deprive those who are voiceless," the group said.