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Is the north coast without law and order

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

We once again write to record the lack of any Coast Guard surveillance on the north coast of Trinidad while every imaginable illegal activity occurs. We refer to one such illegal activity, namely the devastating shrimp trawling which continues to scrape the ocean beds leaving death and an oceanic wasteland in its wake, destroying the ocean’s juveniles and habitat, and which has been “likened to dynamite fishing in terms of sustainability” by the World Resources Institute in their State of the World Report.


On March 25, a shrimp trawler was first observed dragging its nets at daylight off the coast of Blanchisseuse, and continued all day long despite several reports to the coast guard made by delegates of this organisation. We are not aware of any visible Coast Guard intervention. Why? On the north coast, trawling is permitted by regulations which are almost two decades old, and yet why is the Coast Guard noticeably absent?


The regulations are very clear. Trawling is not permitted:
—at any time other than from November 15 to January 15  
—east of Saut D' eau Island 
—under cover of darkness, and 
—inside of two nautical miles from point to point. 



We are in March, a full two months after the expiration of the legislated period for the closed season. These trawlers, like other illegal activities, are free to operate with impunity. Why?


When the agreement was signed, Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) and all fishery stakeholders agreed to a one-strike-out clause which is that if a single shrimp trawler violated the regulations on a single instance, and was successfully prosecuted, then all shrimp trawling on the north coast would be banned indefinitely.



To date, despite constant reported and recorded violations, only on one occasion has a single shrimp trawler ever been fined, and yet the last government did not honour its one-strike-out agreement, in law, to ban these marine destroyers. Why?


We appeal to the Minister Devant Maharaj to consider the depleted state of the fishery, and to ban shrimp trawlers the same way that Belize and Venezuela have. Today, the shrimp trawlers have overfished to the point where we do not even have shrimp, so what will our migratory red fish eat? Sand is not edible. It is not too late for the enlightened leadership of science and a brilliant minister. Why is the Fisheries Division moving so slow?


Part of the problem is that the law itself frustrates the Coast Guard because the law only permits an arrest if the Coast Guard vessel can board the offending vessel while it is dragging the seabeds with its tickler chains. The trawlers know this, so they simply keep an eye out for any approaching Coast Guard vessel which may have exited from the first Boca and entered the visibility of the north coast.



For over a decade FFOS has proposed the simple amendment to allow the Coast Guard to submit to the court GPS readings taken from its own aircraft flying overhead.


Mr Maharaj, shrimp trawlers are being banned all over the world. There is too much to lose and too many have suffered losses from this unsustainable devastation. There are tens of thousands who work at sea, and over a million who need fresh fish, yet only a few hundred are involved in the shrimp fishery. Please, do not allow this to continue. While we wait, many suffer.



Gary Aboud

Cecil Mc Lean
Terrence Beddoe



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