Wed | Dec 19, 2018

Letter of the Day | Don't swallow Shaw's tuna hook, line and sinker

Published:Saturday | September 1, 2018 | 12:00 AM


I like Audley Shaw for his enthusiasm and political competence in ministerial duties. However, on the matter of tuna fishing around Jamaica, I am afraid he is swimming against the current.

Most varieties of tuna are migratory, and their routes follow the great ocean currents that scientists call the Thermohaline Circulation. This is the circulation that transports and mixes the waters of the oceans. The north equatorial current is one of these circulatory patterns. It flows along the Atlantic coast of South America, squeezes through the gaps between Trinidad and Tobago and the Windward Islands, disperses as it enters the Caribbean Basin, eventually becoming the gulf stream, as it is again squeezed through the gap between Cuba and Mexico.

It then flows up past Cape Hatteras off the United States, up to Newfoundland in Canada, turns east and flows past Bermuda and on to the United Kingdom and off Norway.

As the cold-blooded tunas migrate from the south to the north Atlantic, they follow this cooler stream in the ocean. As this great ocean current is squeezed through the gaps between the islands of the southern Caribbean, there is a great concentration of tuna in this area as they follow this current.


Fish in the gaps


Southeastern Caribbean fishermen simply have to fish in the gaps through which this current flows and catch the tuna as they attempt to go past. When the current enters the Caribbean, it disperses, and so do the tuna that follow it. This is one reason why the large tuna fishing fleets of the world don't venture into the Caribbean because the stock of tuna is dispersed over a wide are and are difficult to catch in any great numbers. Hence Minister Shaw's attempts to start a tuna industry in Jamaica is fated to stillbirth.

It is a fact that our fish stock here in Jamaica has been severely depleted by too large a fishing fleet and very poor fishing practices that kill juvenile fish. Minister Shaw probably knows well that it is political suicide to try to stop these bad practices. He need only consult his Cabinet colleague, Minister Tufton.

Jamaicans eat a number of reef fish species that other Caribbean people find very unpalatable, namely parrot, grunt, and barracuda. These species of fish are in great numbers and dying of old age on fishing banks such as Bajo Nuevo (Colombia), Rosalind Bank (disputed), Serrranilla Bank (Colombia), Serrana Bank (Colombia), Quita SueÒo Bank (Nicaragua), The Mosquito Bank (Nicaragua and Honduras), Gourda Bank (Honduras), Misteriosa Bank (disputed), Silver Bank (Dominica Republic), and numerous shoals and fishing banks in The Bahamas and the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Mr Shaw and his colleague minister of foreign affairs need to negotiate fishing agreements with the countries under whose jurisdiction these fishing grounds fall so as to give Jamaican fishermen access to the aforementioned types of fish. This could solve two serious national problems: relieve the pressure on our own primary fishing ground, Pedro Bank, while providing gainful employment for our struggling fishermen.

Sitting in our Parliament is one entrepreneur who was once involved in the fishing business and whose boats fished in the waters off Honduras. I believe his knowledge and experience of the difficulties he faced would be invaluable in informing our approach to negotiating these agreements.

Hopefully, the fact that he sits on the opposition benches will not trump the need to find a solution to this grave national problem.