Terrified fishermen from the south-western peninsula are calling on the Government to set up a Venezuelan Consulate in Icacos, claiming that the Guardia Nacional is terrorising local fishermen as they ply their trade in territorial waters. They are also calling for a renewal of a treaty with the Venezuelan government, which will allow them to fish two miles off the Venezuelan coast.
Speaking at the Fullarton Fish Landing site yesterday, president of the Bamboo Fishing Association Seunath Dalbarry said more than 1,000 fishermen from Icacos, Cedros, Bamboo, Fullarton, St Marie, Bonasse, Los Gallos and Point Coco were in desperate need of help. Apart from dwindling fish stocks, pollution of the sea and expansion of contraband trade, Dalbarry said fishermen were now facing intimidation from the Venezuelan Guardia Nacional.
He alleged that the Guardia Nacional has been charging fishermen US$200 a month to fish in Venezuelan waters. Those who cannot pay are often chased in territorial waters and whisked away to Pedernales, Venezuela, where they are charged.
Jerry Paradath and Berger Sadhoo, who were victims of such an attack, said the intimidation was growing. Pleading for government's intervention, Paradath said he and Sadhoo were fishing about a quarter mile from the Icacos point last July when the Guardia Nacional followed them to Soldado Rock and fired at them.
"We ran from west to east and they came at us and braced us. One of them pointed a gun barrel at a fisherman's knee. We drove off and we eventually sought help from a Petrotrin Trinmar barge. By the time we called the T&T Coast Guard, the Venezuelan military left," Paradath said.
He said T&T's fish stocks were fast depleting because of shrimp trawling and pollution from industrialisation, so many fishermen opted to pay the tax to the Guardia Nacional in return for permission to fish in Venezuela's waters.
"There is a basin in the north field which is 40 feet in depth about four miles from the Icacos shore. This pollution is destroying the seabed and during bad weather the rough seas cause the sediment from the polluted basin to spread. It is destroying all our seaweeds so we cannot catch fish," Paradath said.
He called on the Government to implement legislation to regulate the size and types of fishing nets used by local fishermen. Another fisherman Esook Ali called on the Venezuelan authorities to teach Spanish to the fishermen. He said if a consulate was established, fishermen will get protection.
Contacted yesterday, Minister of Food Production Devant Maharaj said he was willing to engage in talks to set up a consulate. He said there were laws about pollution and the size of fishing nets but he highlighted poor enforcement which he said was caused by the Public Service Commission's failure to fill vacancies.
He said once a proposal is made by the fishermen, he will address it. Ambassador of Venezuela Maria Eugenia Marcano Casado was engaged in a meeting yesterday but an official said she would investigate and issue a comment at a later time. An e-mail was also sent to the ambassador.