(Trinidad Express) WHEN fishermen don’t fish, they can’t eat.
With 12 of their kinsmen having lost their lives to date to pirates stalking local waters, fear is paralysing local fishermen, keeping them on shore when they should be out earning a living.
Many incidents of robbery are going unreported and fisherfolk around Trinidad and Tobago are starting to throw in their nets for good.
Kishore Boodram, president of the Claxton Bay Fishermen’s Association and assistant president of the Trinidad and Tobago United Fisher Folk (TTUFF), said last week the combined ills facing the industry are bringing it to crisis.
In Claxton Bay, the threat of piracy is added to other problems that are causing a steady decline in fish stock— the top two being trawling and pollution from nearby chemical, energy and manufacturing industries.
With regard to piracy, Boodram said he believes the Police Service and the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard simply do not have the resources to fight.
“Fishermen are under siege,” Boodram said, speaking at the Claxton Bay Fishing Depot last week.
“The public heard about the ones that are killed but the problem goes on more often than that. We had an incident where a boat was boarded and some of the fishermen held to ransom until US$10,000 was paid.
“Things are now going unreported because it doesn’t seem to make sense trying to get the authorities to solve the problem.”
Up to 11 boat engines have been stolen around Trinidad’s coasts in the past year and, of those victims, some have not been able to recover financially.
“People are giving up,” Boodram said.
“Some of them are not coming back.”
The pirates targeting local fishermen appear to be coming mainly from Guyana, Venezuela and even from right here in Trinidad.
Boodram said his organisations have been in touch with Venezuelan authorities, who have committed their assistance, but local security forces must also be beefed up.
Local fishermen also make the effort to be aware of any Venezuelan counterparts who are missing, he said, as those fishermen are also being targeted.
When the fishermen do brave the seas, they come up against other obstacles.
“We have complained for years about the disregard of some of these industries for the well-being of the sea,” Boodram said.
“No regulations have yet been put in place to prevent these industries from polluting and from dredging when they are building or constructing tests. Trawling is still a problem, digging up the seabed and reaping baby fish and baby shrimp. Fish stock is nowhere close to what it used to be and as people who have been working with the sea for most of our lives, we know when we see changes.”
Boodram said, to the fishermen’s eyes, up to 50 per cent of the grass bed off the Claxton Bay area has been lost, likely for good.
The grass bed is a crucial feeding area, breeding ground and “nursery” for most of the fish that feeds the country, including mullet, still the most affordable on the market.
This part of the coast is also home, for a large part of the year, to some endangered sea turtles.
“These resources will come to an end sooner than we expect, if we do not start now to protect them,” Boodram said.
“We cannot have companies dumping their waste, garbage and chemical waste, on to the grass beds.”
He said trawlers, barges from nearby industries and even the water taxi that ferries passengers between San Fernando and Port of Spain are all culprits when it comes to damaging fishermen’s nets.
“They might look simple but they are very expensive to buy and to fix,” Boodram said, pointing to the nets heaped on to the floor of the depot, pulled in earlier that morning.
“When a fisherman loses a net and an engine, he could be out of business. You are talking about putting out up to $35,000 for an engine and up to $15,000 for a net. And that’s the cheaper ones.”
Boodram is asking that buoys be placed along the coast to guide the vessels away from the nets.
He said the concerns of his association and of TTUFF have been acknowledged by Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj, but he is fearful that “red tape” will make any progress tardy and imperceptible.
“We have not seen any real progress in the fishing industry. These are just some of the problems that are holding us back and with a new year on the horizon, we are hoping to see serious work put into protecting our resources and the fishermen,” Boodram said.