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Fishermen complain of losses from Kingston Harbour dredging


Sunday, September 24, 2017

Fisherfolk in the Kingston Harbour are disgruntled about a loss of livelihood since Kingston Freeport Terminal Ltd (KFTL) began dredging the harbour in January this year.

Environmentalists say it is a symptom of the harbour having been sacrificed for economic gain.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness has lauded the 30-year divestment as an amicable arrangement with the French-owned KFTL to expand and upgrade Kingston Container Terminal.

KFTL said it has made efforts to safeguard the environment and to compensate fisherfolk for their loss of livelihood, but the fishing community complains that the dredging has significantly reduced their catch.

“We losing thousands of dollars. It's about $500 for a pound of snapper. We used to catch 60 pound the least, and now we catching 20, 15 pound; you can work that out, we lose a lot,” said Charlton Faulkner from the Rae Town fishing village.

Director of distribution services and fisheries at Food For The Poor, Nakhlé Hado, added that, “fisherfolk, on a weekly basis, can catch between 500 and 1,000 pounds of fish, and fish sell for up to $400 per pound. So they are losing a lot of money”.

In a weekly monitoring report submitted on February 14, KFTL indicated receiving an unspecified number of verbal complaints about a reduction in fish catch mainly from the Portmore fishing communities.

Deputy CEO of KFTL Dwane Forrester said they are making efforts to rectify these issues.

“KFTL's field agents continue to monitor the level of fish catch on the 14 fishing beaches in the Kingston Harbour and have sought to provide livelihood support for those affected,” Forrester said.

However, some fisherfolk have been negligent in submitting claims for livelihood support.

Faulkner, who submitted a claim, said he is yet to be compensated.

Winston Munroe, representative for Kingston and St Catherine on the monitoring and implementation committee responsible for approving the claims, explained that more than 50 per cent of claims have been approved. Others not yet approved, he said, may be due to persons not submitting their applications according to guidelines.

“A person just write down a claim and they are not aware that it has to fit certain criteria. It has to be in the general area of the dredging. If they are not fishing in this area, they would not qualify for compensation,” Munroe said.

National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) CEO Peter Knight said there was at first a misconception surrounding the compensation issue.

“Even when people are not affected, they are looking for payment. We are aware of this culture,” he said.

However, Hado reported that fishermen outside the general dredging area are also being affected since “there is contamination trailing the barge all the way to the dumping site”.

Dr Mona Webber, head of the Centre for Marine Sciences at The University of the West Indies, Mona, explained that disturbance of the pollution that has settled in the harbour could very well impact fish populations.

“When they dredge and bring up the sediment, it reduces the oxygen level in the water. The fish will get stunted if they run out of oxygen,” she said, and further emphasised the danger of the resuspension of pollutants in the harbour.

Diana McCaulay, CEO of Jamaica Environment Trust, is also concerned about where the dredging material is being dumped, potentially harming the reefs. Her concern is echoed in KFTL's monitoring report to NEPA on February 28, which states:

“Several complaints from mariners saying that the dredged material is presently being deposited very close to the shore and fishing grounds. Marine Authority of Jamaica asked to change the disposal area and to go about 6 km further offshore for the dumping.”

The report further states that KFTL was told by NEPA to disregard the request since the locations were authorised in their licence.

Knight said the dredging project was subject to a rigorous process which included an environmental impact assessment and public consultation.

As far as claims about dumping out of the designated area, Knight said this is false, based on NEPA's internal monitoring of the dumping vessel.

Additionally, a letter to Knight from Commander Paul Wright at the Fisheries Division states that Shawn Taylor, vice-chairman of the Jamaica Fishermen Co-operative Union, confirmed “no adverse report” from either the dredging or dumping. When contacted, Taylor reported not having full details on data collected.

McCaulay said that for the most part, authorities have abandoned the harbour as a natural space.

“I think they've just decided to sacrifice the harbour, and the dredging is a good example of this. I think they have just decided that Kingston Harbour is an industrialised zone,” she said.

McCaulay argued, however, that there should be zones to protect some marine life, especially mangroves, which maintain an ecosystem for wildlife and protect shorelines from damaging storm and hurricane winds, waves, and floods.

KFTL said it will be helping to preserve mangroves and set up special fish sanctuaries or no-fishing zones and coral reef restoration as part of its social responsibility in the Kingston Harbour.

Earlier this month, KFTL announced that it had completed the dredging work one-and-a-half months ahead of schedule.

According to the company, the dredging of the harbour, which was scheduled to be completed in nine months, has fulfilled all conditions outlined in its environment permit issued by NEPA.

“The dredging facilitated the deepening of the nautical access to allow the Port of Kingston to accommodate larger New Panamax container vessels, which will now be passing through the region following the recent expansion of the Panama Canal,” KFTL said.


— Sharlene Hendricks, Dwayne Gayle and Deidre Dixon are community journalists from the National Integrity Action and USAID Comet II programme being run by Global Reporters for the Caribbean.

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