Fishermen at the Courland fishing depot warned there would be "blood in the streets" if they aren't properly consulted in the planned expansion works at Starfish Tobago hotel. The project is expected to lead to the hotel closing the main access route to the fishing depot, which is allegedly built on land owned by the hotel.
Last October, the Sunwing Travel Group dived into the Tobago tourism sphere, purchasing the former Turtle Beach Hotel, now renamed Starfish Tobago.
However, the depot situated on the beach next to the hotel is now in danger, according to the fishermen.
They said the hotel is planning renovations to increase its room stock on the left side adjacent to the Heritage Park, add a yacht club, restaurant, and other amenities. The expansion, they said also includes the construction of condominiums directly opposite the hotel.
On Wednesday, vice-president of the All Tobago Fisherfolk Association (ATFA) and president of the Plymouth Fishing Association, Curtis Douglas told members of the media at the depot that in November the hotel management along with some high-ranking members of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) met with the fishermen and outlined the hotel’s plans and proposals in going forward. He said while they are not against expansion of the hotel, they want to be part of the discussions.
“In November, we met with the representatives of Starfish and then we made a decision to meet with the fishermen to discuss the pertinent issue of development around this sector. After that was done, in two weeks they said they would have contacted us," Douglas said.
"Two weeks passed, a month passed, so we decided to contact the management to find out about this commitment. They replied and said that Mr Diaz (Daniel Diaz, Sunwing’s vice president) is not in the country and whenever he is here, he would meet with us."
Douglas said this delay is aggravating the fishermen.
“We don’t operate like that… we are no second bystander, everyone here are first-class citizens of TT and represents Plymouth and by extension, Tobago.
“They made a commitment to the fishermen that they will give us the funding to build a new fisheries, we made it very clear that (we) are not going to move from here and go down there (near Courland river), because the waters down there is very bad, we made it very clear.”
Douglas said fishermen will not be bullied.
“There would be blood in the streets if anyone tries to strong arm us, we are not going to move an inch from here. We are not moving; we are not going to tolerate that. We are sending a warning, the smoke ent even start to blow yet. We are sending a warning to Starfish and the powers that be that the Plymouth fishermen and the fishermen in Tobago are not going to roll over and play dead while they come and just do as they please in our island, in our country. We are willing to work with them for the benefit of the island.”
Douglas said the hotel is seeking to have the access road to the fishing depot, which runs through the hotel’s property, closed off.
“We did not agree under no circumstances to close this road because certain things need to be prioritised first; if you close this road, how will the public get access to the beach? We are determined that the public must be able to access this beach at any given time – day or night. Let us sit and discuss and work out a proper structure for us.
“We are not going to allow them to close off any road and bring any pressure on fishermen, stopping the easy and free access and bring problems on fishermen where our lives become hard or depleted.”
Douglas said the fishermen have been occupying the area for over 50 years, adding that in 1992, the same action was tried but shut down.
“We are not going to vacate here just because you sit down in your suits and make decisions for fishermen without coming here on ground and meeting with us to treat with the situation. We are not going to tolerate that… you either sit down with the fishermen and work out and keep to your word. We are going to hold them to their word.
“You see this business of house slaves, we’re not into that… This is not going to be a private beach and we are going to stand firm. We are not going to give up our rights and our fisheries just like that. We are not going to do it and if it means it have to be blood, blood will have to run, so let it be. We are not going to give up our rights and our fisheries just like that.”
Newsday called the hotel to get a response to the fisherman's concerns but the front desk said the manager was unavailable.