THE All Tobago Fisherfolk Association (ATFA) has accused Bajan fisherman of fishing in Tobago waters illegally, even as authorities in Tobago, Trinidad and Barbados hold discussions to resolve the contentious issue.
ATFA treasurer and president of the Colloden Bay Fishing Association Sheldon Cooper spoke on the issue at a media conference called by ATFA on Thursday.
“The Bajans are here and plying their trade illegally,” Cooper claimed while describing the situation as worrying.
“We would have met with officials at fisheries Trinidad, the acting director in Tobago, also members from legal affairs and different stakeholders on October 10 about these Bajan fishermen.
"Low and behold, we understand that there was a meeting, ATFA didn’t know anything about it.
"We heard about another meeting last Thursday, ATFA didn’t know anything about it again.
Cooper was referring to a virtual meeting held last Thursday between senior government officials responsible for fisheries management in Barbados and TT. A Barbados fisherfolk group also took part in that meeting.
The meeting was also attended by the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM), which promotes the sustainable use of the region’s fisheries and other marine resources.
On Tuesday, a statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the Barbados delegation included Bajan ambassador to Caricom David Comissiong (leader), chief fisheries officer Dr Shelly Ann Cox, Barbados National Union of Fisherfolk Organisations (BARNUFO) president Vernel Nicholls, and senior officials from the Barbados Fisheries Division, the Ministry of Blue Economy and the Barbados ministry of foreign affairs.
The TT team consisted of Sunita Harrikissoon (leader), Tobago House of Assembly (THA) Chief Secretary Farley Augustine; THA Secretary for Food Security Nathisha Pantin, other THA top officers, and officials from Ministry of Agriculture and the Coast Guard.
The statement said the talks were held to fulfil the mandate issued to fisheries technocrats of both countries by TT's Prime Minister and Bajan prime minister Mia Amor Mottley after media reports of concerns expressed by some Tobagonian fisherfolk regarding possible overfishing of the shared flying fish stock.
On Thursday, Cooper claimed: "And here today, I can tell you presently (sic) the Bajans are here. Almost two to three boats, right now, are in Tobago’s waters still plying their illegal trade.”
He said he wanted to know when the practice would come to an end.
ATFA president Curtis Douglas claimed the Bajan fishermen were operating without a license to fish in TT.
“We would have had a meeting with Foreign Affairs (Ministry), and we would have sent a ten-point plan, and they would have had a meeting without an invitation to ATFA being present.
"We were the ones that wrote to the Prime Minister, wrote to the relevant authorities explaining to them about the situation that is happening – the raping of our flying fish and the abuse of the harvest of our food security in Tobago.”
He said it was disrespectful not to invite the ATFA when the meeting was convened.
“To see that the Director of Fisheries is showing blatant disregard to the fishing and the food security.
"Discussions are going on and the Bajan authorities and the Republic of TT are allowing the Bajan fisherfolk to come in Tobago waters with the same methods of destroying the flying fish industry in Tobago and we must sit down and be silent.
"We are saying, no longer we are going to tolerate that. If it means that we have to take strategic measures to safeguard our fishing and our food security on this island, we are going to do so.”
Newsday contacted the Assistant Director of Fisheries in the THA Division of Food Security, Natural Resources, the Environment and Sustainable Development Garth Ottley who said he was unaware of any Bajan fishing boats in Tobago’s waters.
“This is the first time I am hearing this. If this is the situation, why aren’t these guys reporting these things to us?
"If they call and tell me Bajans in Tobago waters, I will get in contact with the TT Coastguard so we can treat with it, but if they don’t inform me and they turn around and blaming it...
"It is the first time I am hearing about this. Nobody informed me about that.”
Ottley accused Douglas of leaving the THA out of the loop when making complaints on the issue to authorities.
“Curtis (Douglas) going straight to Foreign Affairs with documents, but when I ask for it, not even the department in Tobago knows what is going on.
"He wrote to Foreign Affairs about issues with fisheries in Tobago, I've never even see the letter.”