WHITEHOUSE, Westmoreland - MINISTER of Foreign Affairs Senator AJ Nicholson says Government has commenced unofficial dialogue with Honduran authorities regarding reports from local fishers alleging acts of 'piracy' by Hondurans.
However, Nicholson says he will not be able to initiate any formal talks with the Honduran Government until he gets an official report on the issue.
"We are working behind the scene until we get the official report," the Minister of Foreign Affairs told the Observer West.
"Nobody has sent us an official report on it. We are awaiting that but in the meantime we are working informally ... the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries will give us a full report," he said.
Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Roger Clarke told Observer West last week that he had planned to raise the issue in Cabinet this week following the expected receipt of a comprehensive report from Havland Honeyghan, President of the Jamaica Fisherman's Cooperative Union (JFCU).
"The fisherfolks have reported to me that the poachers out of Honduras, not only are they poaching and extracting our lobsters, conchs and whatever fisheries out there, but worse than that they are destroying their pots," Clarke said last week. "They (Honduran) are also actually attacking them (local fisherfolks). What I have done, I have indicated to the minister of foreign affairs what the situation is and he is in the process of taking it up with the Honduran authorities," the minister said.
When contacted, Honeyghan conceded that there had been a delay in providing the formal report. However, was very critical of what he said was the Jamaican government's failure to protect the interest of the local fishing industry. He claimed as much as US$70 million was being lost annually as a result of Honduran poachers whom he alleged steal conch and lobsters from traps set on the Pedro Cays by fishers from Whitehouse.
"We losing about US$70million annually and it can't be like that. That could provide jobs for at least 400 persons in Jamaica but the Government is doing nothing about it," Honeygan said
He said fisher folk were planning public protests.
"We are planning a massive demonstration. We are going to block Jamaica. We have been working on that because we want to send a signal to the Government of Jamaica. They are doing absolutely nothing to assist the development of fisheries," he said.
He rejected suggestions that resource constraints prevented the Jamaica Defence Force Coastguard from adequately policing Jamaica's territorial waters.
"Rubbish! Total rubbish! We know that" said Honeyghan. "I am involved in this industry (fishing) for more than 55 years and I know the capacity ... of the JDF. I know that. So I don't want anybody come tell me. You must protect your territorial area," he added.
He said the practice of poaching by Hondurans dates back more than a decade but has intensified over more recent years.
He claimed the 'pirates' become more aggressive as the closed season approaches. That's when the trapping of lobsters and conch is prohibited.
"When it is coming near to the closing season.... end of March what we find it is like they are hatching (Honduran) boats out there. Because as one boat go out, one come in," Honeygan said. "Our fishers go to sea once a week from here, they will spend three to four days out there. And when they go out they find the men pulling the traps and they have to run jostle with them," he added.
Honeygan charged that last week a fisherman at the Whitehouse Fishing Beach complained that 125 of his pots were raided by the Honduran poachers, while three others claimed to have lost their catch from 200 pots earlier this week.
He alleged that armed Hondurans fired shots at local fishers recently.