Lobster lobby - Wanted: More Jamaican boat captains
A severe shortage of qualified local personnel is being pointed to as the main reason so many foreigners are in charge of commercial vessels trading in Jamaican waters.
Andre Kong, director of the fisheries division in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, made the claim as he responded to concerns that Jamaicans are not being given a chance.
"There are very few Jamaicans who are qualified to captain a large vessel. There are some but very few, and most of the industry people are forced to hire foreigners to come and captain boats.
"Even though we are insisting that the industry people hire Jamaicans, they say to us, 'But we can't find nobody qualified'. I've known companies that advertise in the paper to ask Jamaicans to come and they can't find nobody suitable. They will find one and two persons but it's a difficulty," argued Kong.
In recognition of this, the Government is moving to engage the Caribbean Maritime Institute (CMI) to develop a training programme to certify Jamaicans with the requisite skills as captains.
The CMI is recognised globally for its comprehensive training programmes which are in demand the world over.
In the meantime, with the official lobster season due to open on July 1, Kong sought to clear the air on the issue of the number of licences granted, with concerns raised by some environmentalists that the decision to increase the number of boat licences from 13 to 17 could have disastrous consequences on the lobster population.
According to Kong, persons expressing this concern have failed to look into the conditions of the new licences.
"When you talking about fishing for lobsters or fish, is the number of traps, it is not the number of boats actually doing the fishing. So we coming from 13 boats that used to deploy 4,000 to 5,000 traps (each). So the (new) arrangement, by ... the condition of licences is that these 17 boats could only use a maximum of 2,000 traps each.
"So you multiply 4,000 of 5,000 by 13 and multiply 2,000 by 17 and see how much you get. You get less!" declared Kong.
Given that surveillance and monitoring of the operations of these vessels which operate in the Pedro Bank and other offshore areas is very difficult, Kong admitted that it is quite possible for people to abuse the terms of their licences, with very little chance of being caught.
"Of course, we are having problem with enforcement because all of this going on Pedro Bank, and by any stretch of the imagination it is a very difficult thing to police. So we have to depend on the fishers operating the way they are supposed to operate."