Fishermen differ on threat of foreign vessels

Fishermen at the Bridgetown Fisheries Complex have mixed thoughts about the presence of foreign fishing vessels on the seas, as well as the risks these pose to their capacity to conduct business.

They were responding to concerns raised by Minister of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade Kerrie Symmonds when he addressed the threat these foreign commercial vessels often posed to Barbados’ marine resources.

Symmonds said that these vessels, with their use of drift nets reported to be several miles wide, were often responsible for the loss of marine life and the severe overfishing of tuna, swordfish, salmon, dolphin, shark, and other species.

“We must find ways and means of protecting those [fisheries] resources from threats, especially those posed by foreign vessels which enter our waters, using massive commercial drift nets that are reported to be several miles wide and which are attached to floats that sit on the surface of the ocean, but which hang over 50 feet deep,” Symmonds said earlier this month when Barbados ratified the World Trade Organisation’s (WTO) Agreement On Fisheries Subsidies.

Some of the local fisher folk, however, don’t see much of a problem with those foreign vessels or the methods they use. Alfonso Norville, who operates a long-liner boat, said some of these same vehicles often helped him while out at sea.

“With long-line fishing you need help with 25 miles of line. Sometimes I don’t see my sister boat, but I see a foreign vessel and much of my help comes from foreign vessels to get some of the fish I get for Barbados.

“Sometimes you could meet a Yankee boat depending on how far you go, and sometimes those same guys help us,” Norville said.

Other fishermen said such sightings were rare and the vessels were out of fishing range, so they were unaffected by the drift nets.

“We don’t see any of those down here, those are mostly up in the north-east, and we don’t go up in that distance,” said Joseph Knight, who stated his encounters with foreign vessels were Grenadian long-liners.

For long-line fisherman Roger Cox, the drift nets are a problem. As he explains, the length of the net, which is miles wide, often kills the fish the boats come across, leaving little for whoever comes after.

“Nothing stands a chance. When you circle a school of fish there’s little to no chance of survival and any other sea life in there they going to lose their life and they going only take what they like and discard the rest.

“We fishermen who do long-lining, if a fish bites it can get away, they stand a chance. Every fish isn’t going to bite and other fish are not going to stay on the hook so there’s a chance for survival,” Cox said.

Timothy Scantlebury, a Fisherman at the Half Moon Fort Fisheries Division in St Lucy, said that although he has not noticed any use of drift nets, the foreign commercial vessels, which are much larger than his boat, often leave him scrambling and clearing away all of his equipment to avoid obstruction.

“If you’re in the way you got to get out of it, because those things are so big, you know. We got to haul down our squealers or move one time because they got more power than us.”

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