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Pay up or face legal action. That was the message being sent yesterday as nearly 100 fishermen, organised by Fishermen and Friends of the Sea secretary Gary Aboud, in a letter delivered to the chairman of the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) Allan Bachan. Bachan is also the chairman of the National Environmental Assessment Task Force (NEATF) appointed by the Minister of Environment and Water Resources to investigate the environmental impact of several oil spills in south Trinidad last December.
The spills resulted in large amounts of oil being deposited on the shores of communities in the southern peninsula, several people falling ill near the spill sites and an entire La Brea community banned from cooking their own food. Fishermen yesterday said those issues were not the only impacts of the oil spill, which gained the attention of international media. Marabella fisherman David Heeralal said the spill had resulted in a depletion of fish in the area. “We are not catching the amount of fish which we were catching before this. It is affecting us badly and we want to know what is going to be done about it,” said Heeralal as he stood among a group of colleagues outside the EMA office on Elizabeth Street, St Clair, yesterday.
He added: “I am just here to give my support to the cause. It is like we are being ignored. Fishing is our job. “It is where we get our salary and if we are not getting the volume of fish as before that is affecting our entire lives, our ability to provide for our families and support ourselves.” Aboud said in an interview: “The Prime Minister and the Cabinet must be responsible and if they are not we will engage the courts. This is serious, we are hoping to avoid legal action but we are prepared to battle. “There is a principle in law and natural justice that if you destroy something then you must pay for it and we term that culpability creates liability. If you damage me, then pay me for the damage. It is a common and accepted argument,” Aboud said.
Aboud said the letter being delivered to Bachan yesterday had 13 sections and included a report by fishermen that there was a drop in their catch rate of between 40 and 90 per cent. “The seismic survey would have an impact but fortunately we collected our data before the seismic survey began,” he said. The seismic survey involved underwater explosions to help test for possible oil and gas deposits. The explosions drive fish away from the area. Aboud said as far as he was aware, the task force had not been communicating with fishermen. “They contacted us about a week ago for an enquiry and told us that everything we said would have to remain confidential but we don’t understand why it needs to be secret. This was a national disaster,” he noted. Aboud said the group of fishermen expected a response from the EMA and from the task force within ten days or fishermen would be sending a legal letter.
WHAT Fishermen Say
• Latest survey shows catastrophic drop in Gulf of Paria catch rates.
• Cabinet’s veil of secrecy ought to be lifted.
• Several species of fish are dying, while the public is being misled
• Compensation for fishermen stopped on April 8, while sick fish continue to wash ashore
• Species move in and out of the contaminated "red zone disaster area.”
• Tidal movements remove the evidence.
• Petrotrin’s failed maintenance and unprepared emergency response has created culpability and liability.