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Agriculture ministry mulls drones to combat fish poachers

Thursday, February 13, 2014    

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THE agriculture and Fisheries Ministry is considering using drones to man the country's fisheries resources and combat illegal fishing by foreign poachers.

"We are now in the process of looking at drones to deal with policing our fish resources because we are losing millions of dollars each year to foreign poachers when those catches should be here to feed our people, to export, and to make money," Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke told guests at the launch of the Rainforest Seafoods Festival on Tuesday at the company's Slipe Road complex in Kingston.

Drones are unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVS) either controlled by pilots from the ground or increasingly, autonomously, following a pre-programmed mission. Low-cost UAVs can be specially designed and equipped with sensors able to detect and locate poachers.

Other countries are using drones for activities such as countering the poaching of endangered species, and the Pacific nation of Palau has tested the use of the unmanned craft to patrol its vast ocean waters.

The local fisheries industry has been losing tens of millions in foreign exchange annually due to poaching. Conservative estimates put the annual fish loss at US$10 million with a further US$9 million in lobster earnings lost to foreign poachers in Jamaican waters.

Minister Clarke, while addressing a workshop on mechanisms to combat illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing by foreign poachers, said that the illicit practice could not be allowed to continue as it was an assault on Jamaica's sovereignty with far-reaching negative consequences for the livelihood of Jamaicans and the economy.

At Tuesday's function, he gave the Government's commitment to putting measures in place to conserve and boost the fisheries industry, which provides a livelihood for thousands of Jamaicans.

He noted that already, fish sanctuaries have been designated and properly managed, resulting in an increase in fish stock and fish sizes.

He said that focus is being placed on increasing aquaculture production to meet local consumption and export demand, and create employment. In this regard, two agro-parks — Hill Run in St Catherine, and Meylersfield in Westmoreland — will focus on the rehabilitation of abandoned fish ponds.

As is typical of the agro-park model, Government's role is to provide the infrastructure and work with partners and investors along the value chain.

Minister Clarke welcomed the interest that Rainforest has expressed in facilitating the marketing of local tilapia, noting that the farmers are "delighted" at the move.

The Rainforest Seafoods Festival will be held at Catherine Hall Entertainment Centre in St James on Ash Wednesday (March 5), with all proceeds going to Cornwall Regional Hospital in St James.

Minister Clarke is expected to attend the fund-raising event, which will feature entertainment for the entire family.

— JIS

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