Three million dollars.
That is how much has gone to waste with the now dilapidated Grande Riviere Fishing Facility.
Vines and bushes cascade over the fences as hinges bolted to the walls remain doorless.
An astonishing sight as a tent has been set up in the facility by squatters who call the Government-built fishing facility.
Commissioned on January 15, 2013 by then minister of Food Production Devant Maharaj, the Grande Riviere Fishing Facility was opened for use by the area’s fisherfolk.
However, local fishermen have not been able to get their boats into the facility due to the North Coast’s large waves and rough seas.
These hazardous sea conditions destroyed the facility’s slipway, the boat’s only access into the compound.
The facility has never been used for its intended purpose by fishermen. Instead, they now use the Grande Riviere River as their makeshift harbour, notwithstanding its challenges.
To allow boats to venture into the facility, fishermen have proposed building a breakwater system in the far eastern end of the Grande Riviere Beach.
The benefits would also include fishermen being able to practice other types of fishing.
Fishermen have also pledged to place a self-imposed moratorium on net fishing during the turtle nesting season, running from March 1 through August 31, if a breakwater is built.
Nets, according to the fishermen, have been a significant killer of Leatherback turtles through bycatch.
The breakwater system may bring many solutions for fisherfolk in the Grande Riviere community, but officials say they shouldn’t expect the system to appear overnight.
Nadra Nathai-Gyan, the chairman of the Environmental Management Agency and T&T’s National Sea Turtle Task Force, explained, “A breakwater or any kind of man-made structure introduced to the area will have to have careful evaluation and assessment of the impacts.”
Both Nathai-Gyan and renowned turtle conservationist, Len Peters, reiterated that it would take years of study on hydrology, the system’s potential impact on coastal erosion and beach accretion, as well as the changing location of the mouth of the Grande Riviere River to consider.
While it is not an outright denial of building a breakwater system, it begs the question of how could a breakwater impact the environmentally-sensitive 100-metre section of the beach where turtles potentially nest? According to Kyle Charles, the president of the Grande Riviere Young Fishermen Association, “In the turtle record, this part of the beach is zone four. Turtles do not come ashore here,” he said.
Len Peters, who has decades of experience in the Grande Riviere area, backed up the fishermen’s claim.
He said, “Historically, the eastern end of the beach would see the least amount of nesting because of the stony nature and the hydraulic emptying out into the sea. It’s not that you don’t have nesting, but the numbers are very, very low.”
He also added that he’d noticed nesting in that area of the beach only recently in over 30 years of observations.
Peters was the first recipient of the Commonwealth Points of Light Award in 2018 and recognized by Queen Elizabeth II in late 2020.
Conservationists and officials also made the point that bycatch is not local to T&T, and proposed solutions would require all stakeholders to be on board.
Peters said, “I think there has to be a compromise. If you are going to ban nets, the fishing population of people is going to die. They can’t ply their trade.”
In fact, as a result of The Unwanted Catch series, Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) has sought out the Marine Mammal Stranding Network with potential solutions on how they can both save the turtles while keeping the fishermen’s livelihood in mind.
Corporate secretary of FFOS, Gary Aboud, explained, “We’ve proposed a meeting to partner with them for Green Funding to train fishermen on how to avoid capture of these mammals.”
He also added they’ll look into using funding from the Green Fund for creating a subsidy for those fishermen who put down their nets during the nesting season.
For those who are also wondering of what will become of the Grande Riviere Fishing Facility, Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries, Clarence Rambharat gave this response: “I am preparing to visit these fisheries facilities in Northeast with MP Roger Munroe and in consultation with him, the Regional Corporation, the fisherfolk and the acting Director of Fisheries, I would determine what can be done.”
This may be the end of The Unwanted Catch, but it is certainly not the end of the Leatherback turtles as T&T is dubbed these gentle giant’s last hope.