A Fisheries Management Bill will protect fishermen and impose penalties against trespassers in Trinidad and Tobago waters.
This was the assurance given by Pio Manoa, Legal Officer of the Food and Agriculture Organisation, addressing concerns raised by Tobago fishermen at a consultation on the draft Bill for Tobago Fisheries stakeholders, last Thursday at the Conference Room of the Division of Environment, Shaw Park.
Curtis Douglas, Vice President of the All Tobago Fisher Folk Association (ATFA), noted numerous complaints by the island’s fishermen about Venezuelan pirates and reports of robberies at gunpoint, tampered fishing gears and threats.
Douglas said ATFA has called on the authorities, including the Trinidad and Tobago Coast Guard, to assist Tobago fisherman against piracy.
Manoa responded by noting that the draft bill contains laws to address the issue of piracy and protection for fishermen under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, 1982 Treaty – which provides for the rights and obligation in each maritime zone.
“If a vessel comes in to use one of your ports, you have an obligation to take action…if that vessel has been fishing in a manner that is illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU),” he said.
He noted, however, “when you come across a foreign fishing vessel that is fishing in a manner that is against the law and you bring that person in and take legal action against that person, you cannot include imprisonment as a penalty unless there is a treaty between Trinidad and Tobago and the country where that person is from.”
He added the trespasser must pay a reasonable bond/security in the sum of money to the port before he can be released, and if the fine cannot be paid, then the vessel and its occupants cannot be released. “If a foreign vessel is caught violating your Fisheries Laws in the territorial sea, you have the same obligations and you can include imprisonment as a penalty. For that zone you don’t have to prompt a release as that requirement is not in the law. If they are caught closer in the archipelagic waters, imprisonment is impossible, prompt release is not imminent.”
Arguing for strengthening the legislature framework governing passage of vessels in TT waters, Manoa stressed that if this framework was weak, TT’s position when negotiating with another state, would also be weak.
He said IUU fishing by stateless vessels or vessels without a national flag would also be linked to TT’s international and regional obligations to encourage long term sustainability in the fishing sector.
Manoa also noted that the current 100-year-old Trinidad and Tobago Fisheries Management Act is the oldest law he has ever dealt. He said the FAO’s main focus in working on the draft bill is to support the implementation of responsibilities for TT as a coastal, flag and port state.
“As a flag state, the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea has said there is a due diligence obligations when we think about flag state responsibilities,” he said, explaining that a flag state must ensure measures ere in place to address complaints of vessels flying its flag and also ensure these are in a condition to follow rules when fishermen go out to sea.
“As a port state, a country can exercise sovereignty over its ports. A port state can impose very strong conditions, as it wishes,” he said,
As a coastal state, Manoa, explained that “if foreign vessels come in to fish under a licence, they can do that because we have an obligation as a coastal state. If we got surplus fish that our domestic fleet has not caught, then there is an obligation to grant that surplus to foreign vessels, based on the conditions we enforce.”