Regional fisheries policy must curb illegal practices

-Caribbean fishers

After years of indecision, Caricom is set to adopt a Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) that includes the development of cohesive trade mechanisms while addressing potential overfishing, the Caribbean Network of Fisherfolk Organisations (CNFO) says.

Executive Secretary of the CNFO Vernel Nicholls told Stabroek News that “illegal, unregulated and underreported fishing is what the CFP has to focus on. Curbing illegal practices is very important to ensuring the sustainability of this industry.”

Nicholls stated that Caricom had to look inward before looking to non-regional partnerships.

Nicholls told Stabroek News that historically fishing has been seen as an individualistic industry so changing the mind-set also had to be part of the overall strategy. She said that instead of governments selling land and issuing foreign permits, regional businesses should have a competitive edge.

Friday’s meeting of the Council for Trade and Economic Development (COTED) on the last day of the Caribbean Week of Agriculture (CWA) held at the International Conference Centre, Liliendaal, had to show a real commitment to ending tariffs across the region. Nicholls said ending tariffs and promoting a standard    procedure can only improve the sector and allow for movement of product, ideas and training.

She noted that during the CWA, as president of the Barbados National Union of Fisherfolk Organisations, she was able to meet her Guyanese counterpart and discuss how trade has to be more inclusive. Nicholls explained that when fish is exported and imported, there were issues with processing and time of delivery. “We need to find a way so that small scale fisheries can make a profit and they are able to trade amongst themselves across the region,” she said. “This has to be in the CFP. The small-scale fisherfolk can’t be forgotten because they comprise the largest section of the industry.”

Nicholls said small scale fisheries had to have guidelines and those had to be integrated in the CFP draft. “The CFP has to go through,” she said, while noting that tariffs had to also be dealt with to allow for freer trade which would “build cohesion in the industry because for the longest time we have been conducting ourselves in a very fragmented manner. “This week we have met a lot of people, but this can’t just be a setting up of policy… businesses have to be established,” she added.

Nicholls said that a few weeks after the end of CWA the industry would know whether “this was just a talk shop or not”.

Meanwhile, she noted that in the region the varieties of fish are numerous but because of migration patterns and weather conditions there is a severely under-tapped market.

Nicholls pointed to the Barbados market and listed flying fish, mahi-mahi, swordfish, marlin and other varieties of tuna as some of the fish that could be more readily imported into Guyana, which can then export bangamary and gilbaka. She said the goal was to introduce processed and fresh fish into regional markets, while adding that sustainable fisheries and food security also had to be top priority.

Nicholls told Stabroek News that regional governments had to take on the role to start the roadmap. The CFP has been under discussion for far too long, she lamented.

She said governments had a direct responsibility and an obligation to “streamline for a better way to conduct business and set up how to effectively trade.” She noted that private-public partnerships worked best and had to further be explored.

“We have our responsibilities. I try to go back and tell my fisherfolk that this is what is new and this is what is happening across the region and ask what they want to see happening and what they need to see happening to grow their business and grow this industry regionally… The government has to come in and assist because this is country to country,” she said.

She added that governments had to ensure that their departments within the relevant ministries had boots on the ground to assess the infrastructure in the Caricom states in order to bring all the countries to the same standard inclusive of fish-handling procedures.

“This week was eye opening, but hopefully it doesn’t stop here. After the COTED meetings we will know their real intentions and hopefully policy makers aren’t [just] talking… they have to create opportunities like CWA to meet each other they can’t just talk, but they have to create,” Nicholls stated.

The Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) has endorsed the CFP and is the umbrella organisation from which the CNFO was created in 2004 and made fully operational in 2007.