by Curlan Campbell, NOW Grenada
The Fisheries Division is being asked to look into the scarcity of bait that threatens to affect the livelihood of fishermen in the fishing capital of Gouyave, St John. Reports from some fisherfolk in the town are that boats from neighbouring Trinidad and Tobago are known to pay in US dollars to purchase bait from Grenadian boats, a situation which leaves local fisherman unable to compete.
Fishermen who typically use Selar crumenophthalmus, commonly referred to as ‘jacks’ for bait, depend on net fishermen for supply, and this worsening situation has decreased the amount of fish caught.
Derick ‘Bacu’ George says he is directly affected. “They not selling the bait for local fishermen, they [are] selling for foreign boats like from Trinidad, and the fishermen here casting the net are not saving bait for locals; so this thing bringing more pressure on us because we [are] not getting the bait to go out to sea, but the fish are there to be caught.”
George says the concerned fishermen have made complaints many times, but are yet to see a solution in sight. “We [are] accustom[ed] complaining about it and nobody paying heed to it.”
NOW Grenada sought further clarity from other concerned fishermen. Longline fisherman, Ralph Ferguson believes that the net fishermen should not be blamed since they receive more money from foreign boats as opposed to local fishermen.
“Some of us does be hurt, that when they hold bait — especially in Gouyave — we hear that other persons getting the bait. Now it happens that a man here that used to buy fish, but we were getting more for it in St George’s. We stop selling to him, so the net men want the best for themselves.”
The fisherman is also concerned that climate change is affecting the supply of jacks used for bait. “Time like now they [are] supposed to be catching a lot of jacks now, and we not seeing them, so there is a great demand for it and climate change has a lot to do with it.”
Allison Phillip who no longer fishes for a living, is claiming that the present unhealthy relationship between boat owners and net fishermen has caused this situation. His opinion is that fishermen must foster a better relationship with each other in order to be given first preference by net fishermen. “It is a business and if you treat me bad and you come for jacks, I will treat you the same way and refuse to sell to you.”
Senior Fisheries Officer, Moran Mitchell has confirmed that the Fisheries Division is aware of the longstanding bait issue faced by fisherfolk of Gouyave, and continues to work with them to have this matter resolved.
Mitchell said by law, bait sale operators must have a licence issued by the division and under that licence, they are mandated to give first preference to local fishermen before selling bait to foreign boat owners. However, the division does not have the authority to stop bait sale operators from selling bait to foreign boats.
As part of regulating the sale of bait, the division must be present at all times to observe the sale transaction, and fishing vessels from Trinidad and Tobago must go through immigration before attempting to purchase bait.
“The fisheries officer in various districts must observe the sale transaction, which means that an officer will go aboard the vessel to see what the transaction is all about, and in so doing the Trinidadian vessels also have to declare their IDs (identification) and passport to the officer who will take the necessary information to ensure that they did clear customs and immigration.”
The senior fisheries officer says the issue of pricing of bait is another concern with regards to the price being offered by Trinidadian vessels, versus local fishermen.
Mitchell also addressed the issue regarding the scarcity of ‘jacks,’ and recommended the fishermen revert to catching squid for bait to minimise the effects of the scarcity of jacks.
“There are certain times where you have an abundance of jacks. There was a time where they said there are no more jacks in Grenada and in 2009 jacks flooded the market, and the fishermen were told that they can catch squid for the purpose to conduct longlining. Now it is not in [the] best interest of the bait sale operator to starve the local fleet, because the local fleet needs the bait, but on another hand, the bait sale operators have their qualms as it relates to the amount money received from Trinidad boat versus the local fishermen… but from the fisheries department we don’t call boats to come to Grenada.”
Mitchell suggested that NOW Grenada contact Desmond ‘Rampel’ Gill, one of the bait sale operators, to discuss the issue surrounding the pricing of bait. Efforts to reach Gill proved futile, as calls to his cell phone went to voicemail.