Lobster poachers rob Ja of US$132m

Thursday, June 02, 2011

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POACHERS have robbed Jamaica of more than US$130 million in lobster meat over the past five years, according to Agriculture Minister Dr Christopher Tufton who, in addition to assuring his regional counterparts that Jamaica will fully enforce its Fisheries Act, has encouraged them to find a regional solution to the problem of illegal fishing threatening all Caricom states.


"Jamaica produces approximately 400 metric tons (MT) of lobsters per year," Tufton told the fourth Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism ministerial council meeting in Antigua recently.


"Approximately one-third of the country's production is exported and the local lobster industry makes about US$8 million per year. A conservative estimate is that poachers take at least twice as much lobster as the country does, and at an average price of US$15 per pound; Jamaica has lost approximately US$132.3 million over the past five years," Tufton said in his discussion paper on 'Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and Border Security Issues in Jamaican Waters'.


He said the Jamaican queen conch faced a similar situation where losses due to poaching were at one time estimated as being over 400 MT.


However, since 2009, due to the intervention of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES), poaching for conch has reduced significantly, albeit it still remains an issue, Tufton said.


He highlighted recent incidents of illegal fishing in Jamaican waters, saying that over the past year the Jamaica Defence Force Coast Guard reported 42 sightings of multiple vessels poaching on the Pedro Bank, but was only able to apprehend three boats.


Two of the vessels seized towards the end of last year contained approximately 6,680 lbs of lobster meat and 4,740 lbs of lobster head meat, he said.


Tufton also pointed to the January 7, 2011 incident in which a Honduran vessel was found fishing illegally in Jamaican waters and which resulted in the injuring of two Honduran fishermen in an encounter with the Coast Guard.


The minister then told of an incident that, he said, caused Jamaica great concern -- the poaching of sharks.


"On May 8, 2011, the JDF Coast Guard intercepted a vessel of Nicaraguan registration fishing illegally on the North West Ridge of the Pedro Banks, well within Jamaica's archipelagic boundaries," he said. "This in and of itself is disturbing, however, what is of greater concern to Jamaica is the fact that this vessel was fishing for sharks. Jamaica has videographic and photographic evidence of this activity. Eighty-six sharks weighing approximately 2,000 pounds were seized."


These activities, he said, reflect the grave concern Jamaica has for IUU fishing and bring into focus other transnational issues as they relate to criminal activities and border security matters.


"Our intelligence reflects that there is a thriving business in the guns for drugs trade by virtue of using the fishing industry as a guise to carry on these illegal activities," Tufton said.


Lamenting the paltry fines imposed on poachers when they are caught, Tufton said that the US$11.60 charged for fishing without a licence and US$2.33 for operating an unregistered vessel do not act as a deterrent unless the vessel is forfeited by the courts.


In an effort to effectively combat illegal fishing, he recommended the harmonisation of legislation across the region, including the synchronisation of closed seasons for lobsters and conch.


"There is no simple, single or short-term solution to IUU fishing as it is not just an issue for the fisheries sector," Tufton said. "Successful responses will require holistic and integrated policies linked to the drivers for IUU fishing. Success will require independent action by states, bilateral action, particularly by adjacent states, and multilateral action. It will involve greater commitment to and implementation of internationally recognised benchmarks for fisheries management and Monitoring, Control and Surveillance arrangements."


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