Tobago fishermen ready for flying fish talks with Barbados

Fishermen check out their catch after pulling in their seine at Castara beach in 2022. - Photo by David Reid
Fishermen check out their catch after pulling in their seine at Castara beach in 2022. - Photo by David Reid

Tobago fishermen and the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) have expressed their willingness to meet with the Barbados fisheries department to come up with a solution to issues arising from claims of Barbadian fishermen overfishing in Tobago waters.

Barbados’s fisheries department and its fisherfolk have been mum on the matter.

The fishermen have been at odds with one another for some time with Tobagonians claiming that their counterparts from Barbados have been depleting their fish stocks –particularly flying fish – and taking a significant portion of their catch.

Tobago All Fisherfolk Association (ATFA) president Curtis Douglas said a meeting has potential for an amicable resolution between the two parties.

Issues between Barbados and Tobago fishermen came to the fore once again when Douglas vowed to act against the Bajans if the government does not intervene soon. AFTA sent a letter to the Prime Minister last week and Douglas said there are plans to protest at the Barbados consulate. Contacted for a comment, the Barbadian consulate had nothing to say anything on the issue at this time.

On Wednesday, Barbados PM Mia Mottley said she was aware of the concerns raised by Tobago’s fisherfolk, but after a talk with Dr Rowley, both leaders agreed there is no way, either of them could say for certain overfishing has been happening.

Mottley suggested the fisheries departments from Tobago and Barbados meet to assess and resolve the matter.

Mottley believes a fisheries meeting could help resolve the issues between the island’s fishing industries and ensure peaceful co-existence in the region.

She told Barbadian reporterss at a crime symposium in Trinidad, last week, there is no tension between the TT and Barbados governments over the issue.

She said, “There was a concern that was raised by Tobagonian fishermen as I understand it from PM Rowley.

“What PM Rowley and I agreed is that there is no way that either the two of us can say whether there has been overfishing. We do not believe so. My minister and his department have told me that. But I cannot be adamant and they cannot be adamant. Let the fisheries departments meet and let them come to the conclusion based on the science and evidence available.”

Douglas, speaking to Newsday on Thursday, said, “We are willing to sit down around a table and see how we can sort this out. It must be well-organised and structured and the Tobago fisherfolk must have a seat at that table in Barbados.”

Curtis Douglas -

Responding to Mottley’s comment, Douglas said there are some things that cannot be proved through data, but can be trusted using instincts. “Fishermen know...They have been on the sea for years. They know the difference from the state of how things were before the Bajan fishermen started to operate in Tobago waters.

"At the end of the day we are not crossing their border. They are the ones coming to us. So let us be very careful when we speak about science and evidence in terms of catching flying fish in Tobago and recording it in Barbados.”

Douglas added: “I respect her, but she should use due diligence when speaking of something that is our way of life here in Tobago.”

He claimed there is data recorded in Trinidad of the decline in flying fish in Tobago. “If (we catch) 15 coolers of flying fish in Plymouth, Castara, Parlatuvier, Lambeau or Belle Garden – that’s plenty.”

The Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) in a response to questions sent on Thursday told Newsday it does not have data on Tobago's fish stock.

A senior official at the fisheries department in Tobago told Newsday the division does not have any nor does it collect that type of data.

The official said it is difficult to prove overfishing has been happening because some fish species – particularly the flying fish – travel from region to region.

“They (Tobago fishermen) could probably say that because they are out, and they know the sea but that they not seeing the fish doesn’t mean overfishing is happening.”

Attempts to reach Barbados's head of Fisheries Dr Shellyann Cox by phone, over the past two weeks, have been unsuccessful. When Newsday called the president of the Barbados National Union of Fisherfolk Organisation, Vernel Nicholls, on April 11, she said she will comment after her government publicly addresses the issue.

But in a follow-up call on Thursday after Mottley’s comment, Nicholls said she had nothing to say.

Barbados’s minister of state in its Office of the Attorney General – responsible for crime prevention – Corey Lane said there must be a solution to the issue.

Speaking to the media in Port of Spain, Lane said, "It’s disappointing for me that years later we are still here ... I believe the fishermen in Barbados have been advised, the work that we do with the single market to set up companies working with the Tobago fishing industry, and I believe that is one of the critical elements that will have helped us move this situation along.

"Once we continue to work together, we will be able to put this situation behind us once and for all, in the interest for all."

Lane called on fisherfolk throughout the region to join forces.

Secretary in charge of the Tobago fisheries department Nigel Taitt agrees both parties must come to a resolution. However, he said the onus remains on the government to enforce border protection and address future concerns of illegal and overfishing in Tobago waters.

Asked if Tobago will initiate the discussions by extending an invitation to Barbados officials, he said that move must come from the Central Government, not the THA.

Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries Kazim Hosein had no comment to give on the matter except that it is being dealt and it doesn’t concern his ministry.


"Tobago fishermen ready for flying fish talks with Barbados"

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