Old Harbour fishers cry foul

Robbers, pirates wreaking havoc on fishing village

BY KIMMO MATTHEWS Observer staff reporter matthewsk@jamaicaobserver.com

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

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THE group of fishermen who huddled together on the Old Harbour Bay fishing beach in St Catherine last Tuesday helping a colleague haul his boat in after a day at sea, seemed less affected by the scorching midday sun than the recent rash of crimes there.

Expressions of alarm spread across the faces of those who stood listening to another's tale of the most recent robbery that took place in the fishing village.

"A pure robbery a gwaan inna the place. Just a few days ago dem rob a man boat engine and all now we nuh hear or see the authorities," said the fisherman, who identified himself as Winston Graham.

One of his colleagues at first expressed dismay at the news, but soon launched into a harsh verbal assault on the absent 'authorities', who he claimed were dragging their feet in tackling the surging crime problem in the fishing village.

Lloyd Howell, another fisherman in the group, said that it was less than a month ago that he was held up at gunpoint by rogue fishermen while at sea.

"A come mi a come in when a group a men hol' me up at gunpoint and tek away all of my catch," said the man, who also told the Observer that he was happy he escaped with his life.

Howell's experience isn't a novel one among fisherfolk in Old Harbour Bay, and other members of the community say the robbers and pirates aren't the only horror they have to deal with.

They also complain that they are beset by extortionists who force them to hand over portions of their already small catch.

If that wasn't bad enough, some say their fellow fishermen are using illegal methods of catching fish, such as dynamite, and making it harder to get a good-sized catch from the depleted fish stock.

In the midst of all this, these men who make their living from the sea, say they are being ignored by the police.

"The incident dem taking place but we not hearing from the police. Dem need to launch a major investigation into these matters," said Jaslyn Shaw, another man in the group that had gathered on the beach.

When the Observer inquired, the police from the station in Old Harbour confirmed that the fisherfolk have been dealing with increased criminal activity in the area, but insisted that they are being responsive to the calls for help.

"There are a list of problems in the area that the police are working to address. Issues of the guns-for-drugs trade continue to be a major problem on that list," Sergeant Howard Perry, who is stationed in Old Harbour, told the Observer.

"We are very much aware of the concerns and reports of the illegal activities such as fishermen using illegal trawl nets, and the use of dynamite by other fishermen," added Perry.

But the lawman noted that there is more to the story, and he and his colleagues were being seriously hampered in their crime-fighting efforts.

A major obstacle is that no marine police are stationed at the Old Harbour Police Station, despite the fact that it is a seaside town, known to be a hub for the guns-for-drugs trade.

Perry explained that Marine Police boats were at the Marine Police headquarters in Kingston and the local police find themselves unable to respond to reports of crimes at sea as quickly as they would like. The problem has been a subject of discussion for the police high command which have begun planning to establish a post in the area.

"Marine police have been holding discussions to address this problem, but the lack of a secure location where boats can be docked safely remains one of the problems hindering them from moving forward," Perry said.

He added that there was also a concern that without secure docking they would run the risk of their bats and equipment being stolen, or vandalised.

Meanwhile, as the police work to address these concerns, other fishermen have complained about the shortage of equipment such as nets and fishing wire to make fish pots.

"For months we have been trying to purchase inch and a quarter size fish nets and even the size wire to make our fish pots, but none is available," said another fisherman.

He complained that in recent times, only the larger size nets were being sold at marine facilities

"The wires that are available, we believe is for deep sea fishing and not for the type of fishing that smaller fishermen like us are involved in," argued the fisherman.

However, this now appears to be a ploy to force the fishermen to use regulation-size netting. One official from the Fisheries Division at the Ministry of Agriculture, who asked not to be named, said that the size of wire being made available to make fish pots was to protect the fish population.

This was confirmed by a senior source in the Government who said the move to increase the size of the netting wire was nothing new to Jamaica and was a decision taken by authorities over the world as part of efforts to protect young fish.

"The fish population is on the decline, therefore, if fishermen are allowed to catch smaller-sized fish it will continue to add to the problem," said the official, who asked not to be named.

He also said authorities were trying to clamp down on fishermen who were using dynamite or other methods of catching fish that have been banned, such as trawl nets.

Trawl nets are cone-shaped nets which are dragged below the surface of the sea. This method tends to snag fish too young to be consumed, thereby depleting the already dwindling fish stock.





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