Fishing licence row spawns positive proposal

Fishing licence row spawns positive proposal

BY VERNON DAVIDSON Executive editor - publications

Saturday, July 11, 2015

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A proposal to equip artisanal fishermen with the skills to effectively operate as industrial fishers has been embraced by the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

In fact, minister of state in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Luther Buchanan says he has already started discussing the matter with Dr Fritz Pinnock, executive director of the Caribbean Maritime Institute.

"It was brought forward to us that our local folk are not skilled in harvesting," Buchanan told the Jamaica Observer. "I have had a discussion with Dr Fritz Pinnock at the maritime institute to look at a programme of training, because a man doesn't have to come from the coastline to be a captain; it is about geography and GPS."

The proposal was made by a number of artisanal fishermen and Jamaica Lobster Harvesters' Association (JALHA) Vice-Chairman Albert 'Powder' Williams in the midst of a swirling controversy over the awarding of fishing licences this year.

"What I would really like to see is if, with the assistance of industrial fishers and the Government, we can identify those who are trainable and set up a system whereby they can be trained," said Junior McDonald, a fisherman from Old Harbour Bay in St Catherine, who has a small 23-foot boat and does inshore fishing.

"Artisanal fishers are not people who are formally trained, that's why it's so difficult to find people with the capacity to captain industrial boats... but they are excellent navigators," McDonald told the Sunday Observer.

According to McDonald, the rising cost of fuel and material, as well as the depletion of resources on the ocean floor, have forced many artisanal fishermen into other related activities.

"For example, if you go on some beaches you will see artisanal fishermen who have moved to being fish cleaners, because the adverse situation sort of force them out," he explained.

"If artisanal fishers can be exposed to transferable skills, they can be successful," he argued.

Williams, who operates an industrial fishing vessel, had explained that Jamaican artisanal fishers don't have the expertise to fish industrially.

To solve that problem, the owners of industrial fishing boats, he said, will hire Honduran captains and crew who operate the owners' boats offshore, mostly around the Pedro Bank off Jamaica's south coast.

A few weeks ago, word started spreading on social media that most of the 17 fishing licences issued for the 2015 season went to Hondurans.

But JALHA and the All-Island Fisheries Development Alliance (AIFDA) said that story was not true. In fact, both associations heaped praise on Buchanan and his boss, Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Derrick Kellier, saying that the award process was fair and transparent.

"The lie being told is that the licences are being issued to Hondurans. No such thing! The licences are issued to legitimate Jamaicans who have applied and who have met the criteria," Williams had told the Observer in a previous interview.

Williams, who has been a licence holder for the past four years, said that in previous times licences would be issued without consultation.

He said that, prior to 2008/2009, for over 20 years all licences were concentrated in the urban section of the island.

"You had one company having seven licences out of nine, which they would use to lease vessels from Honduras, brought into Jamaica, worked and left at the end of the season," Williams said.

"What we want from the relevant authorities is to make it a level playing field, no monopoly for any person. Allow the middle man a piece of the pie," Williams said.

"If it means restricting the boats from 4,000 traps to 2,000 traps, we are for that. If it means putting a licence plate on the trap to ensure that the trap being used is legal, we're in for that. If it means making the trap in such a way that the small lobsters can get out, we're into that," he argued.

Williams said he found that Buchanan was willing to sit with and listen to stakeholders in the sector and try to address their issues.

In an obvious effort to demonstrate that there was no political bias in the awarding of the licences, Williams pointed out that he is the Opposition Jamaica Labour Party's councillor-designate for St Elizabeth Parish Council's Southfield Division.

Last week, Buchanan told the Sunday Observer that the Government's decision to consult the fishing industry before issuing the licences is a demonstration of the Administration's commitment to consultative governance.

"I am a part of an Administration that... believes in transparency. We are also of the view that consultative governance is good governance," Buchanan said.

"The industry players would have had more experience in terms of the challenges, the hiccups, the loopholes, etc, that exist. And, being a new minister, I thought the right approach would have been to have several meetings discussing the challenges and issues in the eyes of the ministry and the industry," he explained.

The Sunday Observer obtained a list of the licence holders, which reads:

* B+D Trawling - Roderick Francis (2)

* Cole Seafood and More - Richard Cole (1)

* Newport Fish and Meats - Ms Hutchinson (1)

* Fisherman - Mr McCogg (1)

* C+S Seafood - Mr Lue (1)

* Fisherman - Mr Clarke (1)

* Seafood One - Mr Kim-Lue (1)

* Tonrick Enterprises - Mr S Francis (1)

* Rainforest Seafoods Ltd - Mr Grant (1)

* Southwestern Marine Services - Mr Williams (1)

* Forrest Seafoods - Mr Forrest (1)

* Seafood n Ting - Mr Roberts (1)

* Clarendon Seafood - Mr Mohammed (1)

* Branmar - Mr Stephenson (1)

* Seafood Incorporated Ltd - Mr Melbourne (1)

* Knights Commodity - Mr Knight (1)

The licences took effect July 1. However, according to Williams, that does not give them enough time to prepare for the season. That, he said, opens the door to poachers from other countries getting to the Pedro Bank before Jamaican fishermen.

"What we would want is that the licences are issued in a time frame, let's say by the first week in June, then we could go out, make all the necessary preparations that by July 1 or within the first two weeks of July we would be at sea," he said.

Preparation, Williams added, is costly. "To get one of those boats to go out to work for the season it can easily cost US$125,000 to US$130,000," he said, explaining that the expenses include crew, traps, fuel, food, and other supplies.

With that kind of expense, Williams said it only makes sense to keep the boats working once they are seaworthy.

The ministry has stated that the 17 licences are subject to a review upon completion of a scientific survey expected to be done within the next 24 months.

"What is required of us now is stringent policing and that we have everything in place to make sure that we monitor what is taking place," Buchanan emphasised.

"It may require additional resources, but we are prepared to go that extra mile, and so I expect the lobster season to be one where everyone comes out fine, both from an environmental and profitability standpoint," he said.

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