For the past several weeks, watchdog group Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) say shrimp trawlers have been illegally invading the North Coast in search of the large tiger shrimp that breed in the area.
Corporate Secretary of the FFOS, Gary Aboud, organised an expedition yesterday, taking a Guardian Media team out to sea where the trawlers were in full operation.
According to Section 4 of the Fisheries Act, trawling with a dermersal trawler (operated by dragging or pulling a trawl net on the bottom of the sea) on the North Coast should only be done two nautical miles away from the coast in the territorial waters.
But armed with a GPS device, Aboud pointed out that the two vessels seen operating were well within the restricted two-mile area.
“This is one of eight trawlers that has been on the north coast illegally fishing in the protected area. Since 2000, we have a law that says they have to stay east of Saut d’ Eau, outside of two nautical miles and here now they are less than two miles away from the coast. We called the Coast Guard but all of the Coast Guard vessels are down,” Aboud said.
When the crew onboard the two trawlers saw the cameras onboard the pirogue carrying the news team, the vessels began heading further out to sea. Their nets were still dropped and continued to capture shrimp and other marine life as they sped off.
Aboud said when trawlers drop their nets, they also drop chains onto the sea bed to disturb the sand and force the shrimp into the nets.
He said for every pound of shrimp they catch, the nets pick up about 14 pounds of by-catch- which is usually juvenile fish that keep the North Coast fishing trade alive.
“All along the North Coast fishermen are pauperised because they live by potting and now you have the shrimp coming down on all the migratory species come and feed on the shrimp, so when the trawlers come in the protected areas, there is no more fishing, ask any fisherman in T&T, fishing is collapsing,” he said.
He said although the trawlers depend on their catch in the area to sustain themselves and their families, they were destroying the livelihoods of hundreds of artisanal fisherfolk.
Aboud issued a call for the Government to make the protection of the fishing trade a priority.
“We are asking for the Government to live up to their words, we have the nautical readings showing where they are, they are 1.6 miles off the coast and they come all the way inside, they break all the laws…the Government said if they are caught once, they will be banned for life.”
He said successive Governments had promised to ban shrimp trawling altogether because of its devastating effects on marine life.
“Trawling has been dynamite fishing in terms of sustainability. We are asking the nation to come together to call on the Government to honour their word, to honour their legislation. Nothing is being done and the North Coast communities are left defenceless and pauperised.”