Trinidad and Tobago's IUU fishing yellow card from EU sign of deeper problem

Published on
August 16, 2017

When Trinidad and Tobago received a yellow card from the European Union last year for illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, the country's government was motivated to take steps to remedy one of the problems plaguing the twin island nation’s fishing industry for decades.

However, the yellow card served to highlight systemic problems with the management of Trinidad and Tobago's fisheries that has led to important fish stocks being overexploited or fully exploited.

The overexploitation or full exploitation of important fisheries has meant that local fishermen “have to go farther and farther to catch fewer and fewer fish,” said Terrence Beddoe, president of the NGO Fishermen and Friends of the Sea of Trinidad and Tobago (FFOS). It also means that the country is spending much more on seafood imports than it earns from fish exports, according to trade data on the Food and Agriculture Organization's website.

A 2014 report by the Fisheries Division of Trinidad and Tobago's Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries revealed that many of the most important marine fish stocks have either been overfished or fully exploited.

For example, king mackerel in the Fisheries Division report is listed as fully exploited to overexploited. In describing this same species, the International Union for Conservation of Nature website notes that, in the U.S., a fisheries management plan has “helped to recuperate king mackerel fisheries.” On the other hand, the website states, “in Trinidad, fishing effort is not controlled” though there are regulations that specify the maximum length and depth and minimum mesh size of nets that can be used in this fishery.

Other species considered fully exploited or overfished in Trinidad and Tobago's waters include some species of sharks, tuna, shrimp and marlin, among others.

According to Beddoe and other fisheries experts, there are several problems associated with the country's weak fisheries management construct, namely, IUU fishing; the types of fishing equipment used; oil and gas exploration at sea; lack of effective monitoring and surveillance; excessively high bycatch rates; and the country's lack of up-to-date fisheries legislation.

Raymon Van Anrooy, FAO fisheries and agriculture officer for the Caribbean, told SeafoodSource it is estimated that in the Caribbean “between 20 and 30 percent of the catch is so-called IUU catch. At regional level, this is a lot of money, approximately USD 400 to 700 million (EUR 338 to 592 million).”

He continued: “The EU has yellow carded Trinidad and Tobago for contravening the IUU fishing activities declaration and this is now being addressed by the government. It is largely a problem of the international fleets operating from the port in Trinidad and Tobago.”

Van Anrooy said the Port State Measures Agreement, which Trinidad and Tobago had not yet ratified, “will help the country to reduce the IUU fishing,” since “it is much cheaper to control and check illegal fishing activities in the port than at sea.”

Citing one fishery that would benefit from better management, Van Anrooy said that some species of shark in Trinidad's waters are on the endangered species list and, therefore, the trade of these species should be carefully monitored and controlled. “This is very difficult in Trinidad at the moment. Sometimes the shark is not brought in whole, the fins have been taken off to go to China; [therefore] it is very difficult to find out what kind it is, whether a common or endangered species,” he said.

Outlining other illegal fishing activities taking place, Beddoe told SeafoodSource, “There are certain areas that fish come in to spawn and people go after them.”

Additionally, “there are certain times of the year, 15 November to 15 January, that shrimp trawlers are allowed to trawl. They can trawl west of Saut D'Eau island, in daylight, not under cover of darkness. But you might find them trawling before November or after January or east of Saut D'Eau island or at dusk,” Beddoe said.

“Ghost fishing” by artisanal fishermen also contributes to the problem, due to the equipment they use, explained Beddoe. The very real danger of attacks by pirates has led local fishermen to resort to using monofilament nets, which can be left for long periods of time to catch fish on their own. Unfortunately, passing ships or boats may come in contact with these nets that then sink. “They are non-biodegradable. Once they are lost, they continue ghost fishing,” said Beddoe.

Seismic soundings by oil and gas companies searching for new deposits also drive away fish, which sometimes do not return, according to Beddoe.

All the experts SeafoodSource spoke with emphasized the need for improved fisheries legislation.

“The current Fisheries Act Chapter 67:51 Act 39 of 1916 (Amended by 39 of 1966; 23 of 1975) is archaic and does not reflect the current dynamics of the sector or present day ideas for sustainable management and regulation of a fishery,” said Paul Gabbadon, advisor to the Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries Mr. Clarence Rambharat, in an e-mail to SeafoodSource.

He said a Draft Fisheries Management Bill (2015) was currently being worked on that would strengthen fisheries management and regulation, as well as deal with the issue of IUU fishing.

Photo Description: The fishing village of Mafeking at the mouth of the river where it enters the Atlantic Ocean on Trinidad's east coast. (Credit: Kalamazadkhan via Wikimedia Commons)

Reporting from the Caribbean

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