Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Dr. Christopher Tufton has said that within the region Jamaica’s Fisheries laws are the least stringent and least enforced which makes the Jamaican waters open season for poachers and illegal activities on the high seas. The fines imposed by our regional neighbours are several times higher than the fines allowed for under our existing legislation. The Minister said recently, two Jamaican registered vessels were seized by Nicaraguan authorities and the owners of each vessel had to pay approximately US$35,000 per boat as fines to retrieve their vessels. If such a breach had taken place in Jamaican waters by Nicaraguan vessels the maximum penalty chargeable would be $US2.30 cents per vessel.
The Minister speculated that the agents of the state responsible for enforcing the laws were frustrated when apprehensions are made and fines allowed for under existing legislation do not act as a deterrent. He said in the case of the recent apprehension of two Honduran vessels, caught illegally fishing in Jamaican waters, the fines allowed for the breach would be tantamount to a slap on the wrist and it appears that only the extreme position of the vessel being seized by the courts that could have sent the message that illegal poaching is a serious offence.
He expressed concern that recent apprehension by the Jamaica Defence Force (JDF) Coast guard of two Honduran vessels fishing illegally in Jamaican waters, with one vessel being forfeited by the courts has met with disapproval by some of our own local fishers. The Minister said while he appreciated the relationships between fishers in the region, the laws of the sea must be adhered as failure to do this will continue to deplete, in an unsustainable way, the country’s marine resources. The Minister told the gathering of fishers that the new legislation will give the courts a wider and greater option of fines similar to what entails in regional territories that could be used as a deterrent without vessel seizure.
Speaking at the Gillings Gully Fishermen’s Cooperative Society Annual General Meeting in Whitehouse Westmoreland on Thursday, the Agriculture Minister expressed the hope that more fishers would appreciate the need for stricter guidelines governing the sector and working with the fisheries officers to enforce these guidelines. Jamaica’s marine waters are 25 times larger than the size of mainland Jamaica which makes it very difficult to monitor by the fisheries officers, marine police and JDF coastguard. Because of this challenge, illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing which includes poaching from foreign vessels is the norm rather than the exception, costing the country millions of dollars, undermining our marine life and the livelihood of legitimate fishers. Over the past five years, illegal poaching for lobster is estimated to have costs the country US$130 million.
Dr. Tufton is calling on fishers to be the chief guardians of the sector and support the government’s efforts to promote through regulation and capacity building the sustainability of the island’s marine resources. He argues that sustainability of the fisher’s livelihood is heavily dependent on the way the fishers themselves approach the industry and their willingness to embrace best practices. “As government, we can create all the laws that are necessary but it will never be enough if you do not abide by these rules and help to enforce them where it becomes necessary. You must see yourselves as guardians of the fisheries sector, recognising that it’s a depleting resource and see your duty as preserving it for yourselves and future generations” Tufton said.
The current laws, the 1975 Fisheries Act, governing the marine life has to date been ineffective to act as a deterrent to these types of deviant behaviour, the Minister said. These laws are now being reviewed and will see stricter penalties being imposed for those who act in breach of the rules. The Minister urged the fishers to embrace these changes in the laws when they are passed by the parliament.