Foreign fear - Local players livid over Honduran vessels fishing for lobster in Jamaican waters
Major players in the local fishing industry are again expressing concern that foreign fishermen are exploiting the Jamaican waters for lobster.
With the June 1 deadline for applications for industrial spiny lobster fishing licences now past, the players say they will be paying keen attention to see if the agriculture ministry will stick to its rule that only Jamaican-owned vessels will be allowed to fish for lobster.
"We will be looking to see if the boats are coming from Honduras again this year. You know that more than half the boats that receive licences are not here in Jamaica so we'll be looking and we will be asking the minister to look keenly at the situation," Roderick Francis, chief executive officer of B&D Trawling, told The Sunday Gleaner recently.
Francis and other players in the local fishing industry have long charged that Jamaican businessmen, acting in collusion with fishers mainly from Honduras, have been abusing they system.
They claim that the very lucrative lobster fishing licences are granted to Jamaicans who in turn sell these to foreigners.
However, AndrÈ Kong, director of fisheries in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fishers, who grants the licences, says the accusations levelled against him, as well as his office, are unfair and untrue.
"People can talk and say what they want but before we register the vessel as a Jamaican vessel and give it a licence, they have to fulfil certain requirements under the Shipping Act.
"After they have fulfilled all of those requirements I cannot look behind an official certificate from the Maritime Authority of Jamaica (MAJ), which says that these vessels are registered Jamaican vessels and flying the Jamaican flag. I can't look behind that," argued Kong.
But Edmoreen Moodie, customer service liaison officer at the MAJ, says her organisation is only responsible for the registration of vessels, inasmuch it relates to their seaworthiness.
She said the licensing for specific purposes, such as commercial fishing or for use in the pleasure (tourism) industry, is still left up the relevant licensing authorities, such as the fisheries division or an agency of the tourism industry.
In addition, Jamaica's memorandum of understanding with other sovereign states allows for foreign vessels to fly the Jamaican flag, under certain conditions, but after registration with the MAJ these ships/boats are still subject to the due diligence of the licensing authority, a process in which her organisation is not involved.
"If someone from another country comes to Jamaican to register their boat for commercial activity we register it, we don't issue licences, we just register vessels.
"However, if after registering your vessel commercially, and if you want to operate in the tourist industry, certainly you would have to go TPDCo (Tourism Product Development Company) or the tourism ministry's office to get their requirements, in order for them to issue a licence.
"And so the same in the fishing industry, whether they're fishing for conch, lobster or fish because our registration is really a requirement in order to ensure that your vessel is safe. We are not in the licence issuing any at all," said Moodie.