IAN KEVIN RAMDHANIE
Caribbean Institute for Security
and Public Safety
The row between fisherfolk and environmentalist Gary Aboud escalated into a cursing showdown at the lookout on Invaders Bay, northwest Trinidad, yesterday morning. “You don’t know anything about fish! Go back to your cloth!” angry shrimp trawler owner Larry Khan shouted at Aboud, secretary of the activist group Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS).
Khan and other fisherfolk were invited by Aboud to the seaside press conference which was called to clear the air on Aboud’s earlier statement about contaminated fish which had led people to stop buying fish. A fuming Khan threatened to dump the dead fish Aboud had been collecting at his store, Mode Alive, Frederick Street, Port-of-Spain. Khan said it was not proven that Corexit 9500, the dispersant used by Petrotrin in last December’s oil spills, had killed the fish.
He said people did not consume mullet, which was disputed by other fisherfolk present, and Aboud had no evidence that other fish, like salmon, were washing up dead. He said Aboud’s statements were affecting his business. Independent marine biologist Robin Ramdeen, in defence of Aboud, shouted obscenities at Khan.
“I cussed him out,” Ramdeen told the T&T Guardian. “He apologised. As a mother, environmental scientist, and citizen of T&T, the argument of the lone, very well dressed, very misguided shrimp-trawler was met with my complete and utter disgust.” Ramdeen said precautionary principle stated in the absence of sound scientific information, one should err on the side of caution. “The principle implies there is a social responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm.”
Asked how he felt about Khan’s threats, Aboud said: “It’s all right. We know fishermen are angry because people stopped buying fish.” Fish sales, usually high in the Lenten season, took a nose dive after Aboud dumped two coolers of dead fish, mostly mullet, in front of the Environmental Management Authority’s (EMA), St Clair, office last week.
The media reported that he warned people to stop eating fish because he believed most of the fish population was contaminated by Corexit 9500. He said dead fish were washing up on the southwest coastline. Aboud told the media yesterday the reports had given the public the impression he said people should not eat any fish at all. “I never meant for people to boycott all fish. FFOS is aware there has been a massive collapse in the sale of fish. People are not buying,” he added.
He said the group wanted to remind the public that fish, shrimp, crabs and oysters caught off the north, east and south coasts of Trinidad—were not expected to be affected by the ongoing fish kills in La Brea. Clearing the air on Gulf of Paria fish, he said it was only bottom-feeders like waliac, salmon, mullet, lippy, catfish, blinch, crapo, pompano, bouchet and taraut that were washing up dead. “These fish are likely to be contaminated by Petrotrin’s oil spill. These fish should not be consumed,” he said.
Carite, kingfish, dolphin, tuna, wahoo, bonito — all surface fish — were not washing up dead, Aboud said. “Therefore, we believe surface fish are not likely to be affected by Petrotrin’s oil spills,” he added. Aboud said the FFOS was calling on Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar to instruct Environment Minister Ganga Singh to make a definitive statement on what was killing the fish.
He said the FFOS, based on its analysis, was of the view the fish kills were the result of Petrotrin’s use of Corexit 9500 which became highly toxic when mixed with oil. Aboud said it was imperative the Government declared how much was used and where so a scientific analysis could be done.