T&T food minister bans trawling over declining seafood stocks

(Trinidad Express) Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj has announced restrictions on trawling in local waters, in the face of declining seafood stocks and environmental damage caused by wide-range dragnets.

In a media release on Monday, Maharaj disclosed that he has mandated a ban on trawling for non-artisanal trawlers; the implementation of a closed season for trawling activities; an amendment of regulations governing the Fisheries Act; and the appointment of a multi-sectorial committee to consider a relief package which can be offered to displaced fishers who will be affected by the change in legislation and the ban on trawling.

“As many are aware, trawling is a method of fishing that involves the manual or mechanised towing or pulling of fishing net called a trawl net through the water or on the bottom of the sea bed,” Maharaj stated.

Trawling has earned a reputation for being vastly destructive and has been the subject of calls for it to be banned, locally and internationally.

In addition to local fishermen who use trawling boats, the Gulf of Paria is also trawled by international fishers. The practice has been banned or restricted in several countries, including Australia, Brazil, Canada and Malaysia.

“This type process allows the vast majority of species captured by the trawl fleets to be discarded, with a major proportion of the discards comprising juveniles and commercially important species, including carite, king fish, snappers and groupers,  which are of commercial importance to stakeholders of other fisheries,” Maharaj stated.

“Additionally, conflicts have arisen between artisanal and non-artisanal trawl fishers concerning habitat destruction resulting from the dragging of the trawl gears on the sea bed during trawling operations.”

Trawl nets vary in size but can span tens of feet and run behind the boat for miles, indiscriminately dredging the water and sea bed.

“This state of affairs has resulted in serious conflicts amongst competing fishers and has also been used by environmentalists as compelling justification for immediate and strong action to be taken  to address trawling activities,” Maharaj said.

Most local trawlers originate from Orange Valley and head of the Orange Valley Fishing Association, Shaffie Mohammed, said on Monday that the group is awaiting further consultation with Maharaj before commenting.

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