Amidst its calls for compensation, the All-Tobago Fisherfolk Association (ATFA) is requesting a meeting with BHP Trinidad.
ATFA alleges the oil company began a geotechnical survey in Tobago’s waters on July 11.
Executive members of ATFA, headed by its president Curtis Douglas, hosted a news conference on Friday at the Pigeon Point Fishing Facility, where they made the call.
Douglas said the fishermen had a meeting with BHP in February, but were not told the company had been granted clearance to begin work this month. He said should it go ahead, it will negatively affect the Tobago fishermen’s livelihood and the island’s marine resources.
“ATFA is saying – we as the fisherfolk in Tobago – are asking for exemption on oil and gas in Tobago, because it is unfair for the fisherfolk to go through this.”
He said the survey "starts from 63 miles to the closest point to seven miles inshore in the waters of Tobago. That means they have violated the same lines that they have confined Tobagonians with as our marine and protective zone. The protective zone is a zone where our reefs (are) – we have over 22 reefs in Tobago – so when they come, even self they come for one hour, or a day within that zone, they would be doing a lot of damage.”
All the fishing villages on the island would be affected, he said.
“What ATFA is asking for is that the fisherfolks in Tobago must be compensated, because not only would they be conducting that survey ...but fishermen also cannot or would not be able to come within 500 metres. So they would have a boat or a ship about 100-200 metres long, plus they would have what you call a chase boat. So when fisherfolks come close, that boat would now chase the fishermen away from their traditional fishing grounds.”
The surveys, he said, would affect red fish, snapper, kingfish, albaco and bonito, among others.
He said he has met with all the fishermen on the island.
“There was a resounding cry by the fishermen of Tobago: 'Mr Douglas, ATFA and your executive, we are appointing you all to go out there, and when you meet with BHP, ask them, tell them they are going to damage our marine resources and they are going to damage our livelihood. We done under covid19, we done under pressure. They raise oil, fish raise.'”
He urged BHP and the relevant authorities to meet with Tobago fishermen, saying they had made repeated efforts to reach out to the company.“We are asking, we are pleading with BHP Billiton, (corporate affairs manager) Carla Mendez and her team, to please meet with the All Tobago Fisherfolk and (hear) their cry and give the fisherfolk their compensation so that everybody can coexist.
But the two parties do not seem to share common ground.
"We said fishermen would be affected and they believe fishermen would not be affected.
"We send an e-mail to the new regional manager, sent it to Carla Mendez, saying we do not agree that fishermen would not be affected, and they refused to respond to us."He said the association will not allow this to happen.
“This is the first cry that we are going to make publicly, the first one, because make no mistake, we are not going to lie down and play dead. We are not going to be sheep, we are sharks and whales and we are going to do what we have to do – SoE or no SoE . We are going to do what we have to do, because at the end of the day, I have children to feed, the fishermen and them have children to feed, the fishermen and them have families, the vendors have families, and we are making a plea to let good sense prevail.”
He said the fishermen are scheduled to meet with Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis next week.
When contacted Dennis said he has asked for a meeting with ATFA to get a better understanding of the issue, after which he would make a statement.
BHP officials could not be reached for comment.