Thursday, 19 April 2012 02:30
By caribarena news
Antigua St John's - The Chinese opting to capitalize on one of the many gaping holes in Antigua's fisheries management system is only the latest in a series of events that have unfolded over the past several years that will undoubtedly continue to see the depletion of the local fisheries industry.
And nothing short of the implementation of the long-passed fisheries management laws, with amendments, would see the streamlining of the industry.
This was according to local marine officials like Eli Fuller and 30-year veteran fisherman Gerald Price, in response to the recent public outcry about Chinese nationals opting to pay more for local lobster than the capped price, if supplies are guaranteed year-round.
Price dismissed any notion that there was a fleet of Chinese heading to Antigua to overfish local waters. But he acknowledged that considering the extent to which the Chinese are attacking the lobster industry, it could yield the same results.
“The Chinese are here, and they are offering $15.50 per pound of lobster compared with the maximum $14 that is offered in Antigua. They intend to buy right throughout the year,” Price said. “The Chinese are giving a guarantee that they would buy throughout the year. So that is good news for some of the fishermen.”
He noted that during the closed tourist season, fishermen usually have problems selling their catch, considering low-level hotel and restaurant occupancy. This new avenue not only guarantees sales, but provides employment opportunities, since the Chinese have also opted to assist fishermen with gear to make their ventures more productive.
Each fishing boat is estimated to catch 150 lbs of lobster every time it ventures out.
“There is a cry right now that the industry is likely to be depleted because of this new programme,” Price said, adding that this could be avoided if the regulations under the Antigua and Barbuda Fisheries Act are actually signed into effect by Fisheries Minister Hilston Baptiste.
In 2011, the minister said he would not sign the regulations into effect until all the players in the industry are familiar with the implications. A meeting with these stakeholders was called, but never materialized.
“To me it's a good Act, with good regulations," Price said. "It needs a little tweaking here and there, but a year has passed, and this meeting has not been called. Consequently, we are in limbo."
He added, "We fish from January to December in Antigua, and while nature takes care of itself, we have to do management of fishing. If we just fish indiscriminately, whatever we have will just disappear.”
The regulations, he said, make provisions for a slow season, and offer some level of protection and structure to marine life. If it were signed into law, fishermen would be barred from operating throughout the year, as is the norm in most other Caribbean territories.
Meanwhile, Fuller believes Antiguans are being selective in their alarm, as he pointed out that the same practice has been ongoing with French, Arab, and even Dominican nationals for at least five years, with no public outcry.
These stakeholders, he noted, have capitalized on the sale of conch and other marine products for mass exports to Guadeloupe, Dominica, and elsewhere, to the extent that locals have found themselves having to seek them out whenever they need the meat.
“Why all of a sudden when the Chinese doing it, Antiguans are vex?” Fuller asked.
He also noted that non-nationals continue to capitalize on weak areas of business that Antiguans continue to miss – a custom that has been ongoing for decades.
“The reality is we have no fisheries management in Antigua, and until we have fisheries management, all these guys are going to keep coming," Fuller said. "They are more entrepreneurial than Antiguans, and they see the weakness in our business plans and they capitalize on it. But the fact of the matter is we have a weak fisheries policy and a complete lack of fisheries management. Let's address that then we can talk about which nationalities are taking what."
Meanwhile, Chief Fisheries Officer Cheryl Appleton Jefferies acknowledged that at least one Chinese national living in Antigua has been exporting lobsters.