THA Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis is encouraging all stakeholders, including members of the fishing industry, to partner with the Tobago House of Assembly to safeguard the Buccoo Marine Park. Dennis said the marine park is “a precious resource that has achieved international acclaim" and collaboration was needed "to secure its sustainability and use by future generations.”
His comments came after the All Tobago Fishermen Association (ATFA), on Thursday, hosted a press conference accusing the THA Division of Food Production, Forestry and Fisheries of charging a fee for fishermen to pass through the marine park.
On June 1, Dennis established a task sorce with the responsibility of implementing the Buccoo Reef Marine Park user policy, which was approved since 2016 by the Executive Council of the THA. The implementation of this policy is being undertaken on a phased basis and began with regularisation of the glass-bottom boat tours.
A recent THA press release said TFT-licenced fishing vessels are registered to conduct commercial fishing and are not licenced to conduct tours or transport passengers.
“Only TL (transportation launch) registered vessels are lawfully authorised to do so by virtue of the Motor Launches Act Chapter 50:08 Act 21 of 1926. The Shipping Act Chapter 50:10 Act 24 of 1987 states that a fishing vesse” means a vessel used or intended to be used for catching fish for gain. Therefore, in line with the act, TFT fishing vessels are issued transit permits to traverse the marine park only. No cost is associated with transit permits and all other fees associated with access permits have been waived until January 2021,” it said.
The THA added: “This critical marine space has faced numerous threats due to illegal fishing, poaching of conch and other marine organisms as well as damage to coral habitats from human activity. Fishing is prohibited in the marine park as stipulated in the marine areas (Preservation and Enhancement) Act of 1970, and the Division of Food Production, Forestry and Fisheries continues to conduct daily patrols to ensure that these unlawful activities do not take place.”
Fisheries Secretary Hayden Spencer said the fishermen can still pass through the channel however only licenced reef boats are allowed onto the marine park.
Speaking with members of the media from the Buccoo jetty on Thursday, president of All Tobago Fisherfolk Association Junior Quashie said consultation should have taken place.
“We understand that the THA/ Fisheries has taken some steps which is not in favour of the fisherman, what the fisherman don’t know about. No proper consultation to deal with that. Since I was a child, I know the Buccoo Reef is there, I know that when sea rough fishermen does pass to the extreme left to get out and to get in and suddenly, you have to pay to go through, pay to pass through – pay, pay, pay – and the fishermen here not happy about it,” he said.
ATFA vice president Curtis Douglas said the alleged fee made it challenging for the fishermen.
“We are seeing the hand of Hitler being passed down on the poor people of Tobago, especially the fisherfolk.
“We are already suffering high gas prices, covid(19) and then now for the fishermen in Buccoo itself to now pay to anchor right in their own home, the Buccoo fishermen would now have to pay to have a mooring in their home is like you living in a house and then the government or whoever is in charge would say to you, you now have to pay a rent to live in your own house,” he said.