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Prognosis for Gulf fisheries not very good

Monday, April 7, 2014

The odds may be stacked against the Fishermen and Friends of the Sea, as they may be fighting a losing battle, both against nature and the Government. Quite apart from the effects of the recent oil spill, the Gulf has been dying slowly for a long time, as there are ongoing contributory factors that impact negatively on a sustainable fisheries industry. The factors are: 


1) Global warming has been implicated in causing certain species to migrate to cooler waters; 
2) ongoing local pollution and contamination from industrial waste from the many industries around; 
3) semi enclosed bodies of water in equatorial regions have had their natural balance compromised, eg Gulf of Paria; 
4)The effects of seismic testing are well known on the fishing industry.


The Western Central Atlantic Fishing Commission (WECAFC), a body of the UN Food and Agricultural Organisation, met recently in Trinidad and lamented the decline for the past 20 years, of the grouper and snapper, and recommended immediate remedial action including a fishing season and the ability to enforce same. The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have zeroed in on ocean PH levels and climate change. 


They say that many species of tropical fish, especially from semi enclosed seas, will experience high extinction rates, while some will move to colder latitudes. The white mullet has been cut off from its food source by layers of emulsified oil and dispersant (Corexit 9500). In addition to its toxicity, these factors probably made them the first to go, others simply moved away to more favourable spots. Mullet is not a much sought-after fish. I know local fishermen used to make local saltfish or “cornfish” with them. 


Scientists say any seafloor affected in this way will be totally unproductive for 25 years at least. Some locals say other fish such as carite, king fish, dolphin, tuna, wahoo and bonito, are not affected as much and may be edible, but let’s keep in mind how the food chain works. Try as we may, we can never get a straight answer from our own Institute of Marine Affairs. Their report says, “the fish may have died from a parasitic disease, or from ingesting harmful food organisms”. How helpful or conclusive is that? 


They are always noncommittal or defensive, however “they are collaborating with UWI. on this matter”. Nevertheless, what is done is done, a sustainable fishery in the Gulf may be in question, our fishermen may be required to go further out to sea, requiring bigger boats and more expensive gear in the future. The Government may be a viable partner in this. 


Altogether the prognosis for the Gulf is not very good. The sciences available to us at this time have only negative projections for the Gulf and equatorial waters in general, but then again, science has been known to be wrong when trying to predict nature.



Joel Quintal,
San Fernando


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