Is there overfishing of flying fish (or any other fish) in Tobago waters? Nobody who has responded to the question seems to know.
Curtis Douglas of ATFA (All Tobago Fisher Folks Association) believes there is, but he does not have the data that would support his belief. Barbados Prime Minister Mia Motley does not know but does not believe there is. And she claims that Dr Rowley, Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister follows her in not knowing but not believing.
Douglas’ belief hangs on at least two observations: 1) the Barbadian boats with their massive iceboxes fish for roughly a stretch of six days as compared to Tobagonian pirogues that hardly go beyond a day and a night; and 2) these same Barbadian boats use nets and “cuts them away”–that is, abandons them–when the iceboxes are full, but the nets have excess fish.
Mottley, speaking on behalf of both herself and Dr Rowley, declares that Bajans have every right to fish in Tobago waters, that it is not possible for her and him to know that overfishing takes place and that the fisheries departments/ministries should come together and give us a conclusion based on the facts and the science of the situation.
She and he have expressed these views but without telling us what they understand overfishing to be. But, from what Douglas says, it is depleting the stocks in different sites and leaving little for the Tobagonian fisher folks to harvest the fish for the purposes of sustaining their families and processing it for sale locally and internationally. Overfishing imperils both purposes.
According to a Loop News report, Mottley had more to say. Let me summarise. ATFA’s overfishing issue was “irrelevant” since the revised Treaty of Chaguaramas gave any Caribbean person who lives in a signatory country the right to set up a business in Caricom. Just as a Trinidadian could set up a hotel in Barbados, so could a Barbadian fish in (Trinidad and) Tobago waters. But there was a bigger issue–the adverse effects of sargassum seaweed on the flying fish stocks and on the general Caribbean marine environment. And then she says this: “If we can get an agreement that deals with conservation and the management of (fishing) stock and preventing overfishing that is in the interest of all of us.”
A fishing agreement. We don’t have any currently. At least, I haven’t been able to find any. There have been short-lived ones in the past, but none has endured. That is why Mottley felt obliged to reference the Chaguaramas Treaty. In 2014, there was “a pending fishing agreement” between the two countries, but today there doesn’t seem to be any. Re the pending agreement, Dr David Estwick, the former Barbadian minister of agriculture (where fisheries is located) observed that, given the fact that his country didn’t/doesn’t have the 200-mile space “sometimes delimiting both countries”, minister-to-minister discussion “could … set the environment for truly having access to the marine space and the resources within that space without forming encumbrances.”
So Estwick, Mottley, and Barbados are on a different level than Douglas. Their focus is on different matters. The Barbadians are focused on the general marine environment and the forging of a bilateral agreement on how the resources contained therein can be managed and accessed; the other is focused on legal management of Tobago’s flying fish stocks, which they perceive to be overfished by the Bajans, for home consumption and local and international trade.
Mottley treats the solution to the matter as being under the purview of the fisheries departments of the two countries. But Douglas tells me that it should be a matter involving discussions between the Government of Tobago (the Assembly) and the Government of Barbados, and that if Trinidad and Tobago’s Government must be involved, Tobago’s Chief Secretary should lead the negotiations. He sees it as a political matter at the heart of Tobago’s struggle and aspiration for autonomy.
Tobago’s leadership has not (yet?) been involved in the exchange of views from the two countries on the current outbreak of concern by ATFA, but I can’t see them being left out, going forward.
Winford James is a retired UWI lecturer who has been analysing issues in education, language, development, and politics in Trinidad and Tobago and the wider Caribbean on radio and TV since the 1970s. He also has written hundreds of columns for all the major newspapers in the country. He can be reached at email@example.com