Tobago Fisherfolk plan protest at Bajan embassy

Curtis Douglas, president of all All Tobago Fisherfolk Association. - David Reid
Curtis Douglas, president of all All Tobago Fisherfolk Association. - David Reid

Tobago fisherfolk claim there have been fresh incursions into this country's territorial waters by Bajan fisherfolk and they intend to protest outside the Barbados High Commission, in Port of Spain in an attempt to get authorities to respond.

Curtis Douglas president of the All Tobago Fisherfolk Association (ATFA) said there have been repeated incidents where Bajan fisherfolk have ventured into their fishing grounds catching the prized flying fish and other fish.

But in response to the Douglas' claims, the president of the Barbados National Union of Fisherfolk Organisation Vernel Nicholls said her organisation will only comment after Government of Barbados responds to accusations of overfishing and bullying by Barbados fishermen in Tobago waters.

Reached by phone on April 11, Nicholls, who said she became aware of the Tobago fishermen concerns after she received a screenshot of a newspaper article referring to the Tobago fisherfolk complaints, said she preferred to reserve her comment on the matter for now.

But Douglas said his members are frustrated as their complaints to the Coast Guard and the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) have not gotten the attention it deserves.

Later this week, the association intends to deliver a letter to the Office of the Prime Minister demanding the government intervene.

In a phone interview on April 11, Douglas said, “We are not afraid to protest in front of the embassy. We are not afraid and we are more than prepared. I will not say much more because action will be taken.”

He claimed that Barbados fishermen have been stifling Tobago’s fishing industry and creating hardship on Tobago’s economy because Tobago fishermen are at a disadvantage.

“They are coming and catching the flying fish and making it harder for us to catch flying fish or even dolphin, tuna and other kinds of fish. I am saying it’s creating economical strain on us Tobagonians and the fisherfolk.

“AFTA is just here seeing the hardship coming on us and nobody is paying attention.”

He said attempts to get THA Chief Secretary Farley Augustine to intervene have been unsuccessful.

“Nothing has changed even after a meeting with the Chief Secretary. What we would have observed in the last two years with the covid19 is that the fish had time to grow and lay and now it seems they (Barbados fisherfolk) are now overfishing. All of the flying fish are being caught in Tobago and are being recorded as Barbados flying fish," he claimed.

“I know it is Caricom working together but they have an issues. No one has reached out to AFTA to reach a deal of some kind where we in Tobago could supply some of these fishes to that we here in Tobago can survive.”

Douglas said, “Whoever made the decision or deal to allow this type of advantage to happen, whether it be the Prime Minister or whoever must now do something to help us or we will take our own action.

“We do not know what the government did because we haven’t spoken to anyone from Barbados, nobody, not even the Prime Minister, or any member of government has spoken to AFTA," he said.

Calls to an office phone for Barbados' head of Fisheries Dr Shellyann Cox were not answered.

Tobago’s secretary in charge of Fisheries in the Division of Food Security, Natural Resources, the Environment and Sustainable Development Nigel Taitt said there is not much he could do but advise the fishermen to continue to make reports to the Coast Guard.

"This issue has been plaguing Tobago for years, this is not a new issue. From since I was a young person...The division doesn't have the necessary resources to deal with that but what I could advise the fishermen is to report illegal vessels immediately."

A senior Tobago Coast Guard official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Newsday the Tobago base does not have a vessel for patrols and rely on vessels from Staubles Bay, Chaguaramas to assist.

The interceptor assigned to Tobago went for repairs in 2022 and is not yet ready to be launched, the officer said.

The officer said the Coast Guard have been using a police patrol boat.

In 2022, Augustine handed over two vessels, which were stored at the Shaw Park Cultural Complex, to the police for tourism-oriented patrols after reports of illegal parties on the Nylon Pool and Buccoo Reef.

These boats were used once to patrol during a Dragon Boat Festival event, in Tobago.

Questions sent to the Coast Guard public relations unit did not get any response up to press time.


"Tobago Fisherfolk plan protest at Bajan embassy"

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