New regime for lobster industry
The new licensing regime for the lobster industry announced on Friday is expected to significantly improve transparency and equity, allowing for smaller fishers to get a fair share of this very lucrative marine trade, according to industry players.
The measures, which takes effect on Saturday, July 1, will address a number of longstanding anomalies, according to Donovan Stanberry, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries.
"What we have done is made it possible to increase the number of applicants but within a sustainable framework ... and put a little more emphasis on investments, so that you can get new entrants. We have (also) made it harder for people to get a licence and not activate it. For some reason they don't go out and fish. I don't know if they don't have the equipment or have lost interest but we have had quite a number of such incidents in the past," he told The Gleaner.
Among the significant changes approved by the Fisheries Minister Karl Samuda for the 2017/18 lobster fishing season is the extension of the licence from one year to two years, as well as the creation of two new categories of licences - artisanal and research and scientific purposes. This brings to four the number of categories of lobster fishing licences, with industrial and carriers/transportation of lobsters being the traditional ones.
Commander Paul Wright, chief executive officer of the Fisheries Division in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries highlighted the appointment of an advisory committee to assist in the selection process, as another major improvement. He also explained the economic rationale behind the doubling of the licensing period.
"What we are trying to create is a good business environment, so instead of each year they have to be coming back for the licence, we are now doing it for two years. Previously what we focused on was just the industrial and the carrier licence (but) what we are doing now is affording the small man, the artisanal fisher the opportunity to get a licence. We are going to give the small man an opportunity in a very transparent and equitable manner," Commander Wright declared.
He went on to underscore the importance of a comprehensive public awareness strategy to make sure everyone understands the full implications of the new measures, in order to inform their participation come July 1. Even though the licence was previously granted for one year periods, no fishing was allowed during the annual lobster closed season from April 1 to June 30, thereby effectively limiting the fishing time to July 1 to March 31.
The fisheries CEO pointed out that even though the two-year licence period will cut across the closed season, it will still be illegal to fish or offer lobster for sale at that time of year, hence the need for a robust public awareness campaign.
Another issue to bear in mind is that even though the lobster boats will have a licence to fish for a consecutive 24-month period, the vessels will have to renew their certification by the Maritime Authority of Jamaica (MAJ) each year, as now obtains.
"Our role will not change in the scheme of things. It continues to be the certification of vessels for operating in Jamaican waters and where necessary or applicably the registration thereof. All the vessels, whether locally based or coming from overseas that are going to be engaged in that or other operation needs to meet with the standard of seaworthiness that is stipulated and administered by the Maritime Authority of Jamaica," an MAJ executive told The Gleaner.
"The licence that Fisheries (Divsion) gives is not a licence of seaworthiness. It's a licence that speaks to their authorization to engage in fishing, in that type of fishing. So yes, they may be allowed by Fisheries with the new regime, to engage in fishing activities for a two-year period at a time rather than one, but their certification for seaworthiness is not dependent upon the fisheries licence," the executive explained.
"In fact, it is the other way around. The fisheries licence ought to be and is conditional upon the seaworthiness of the vessels. So even though they have a two-year period within which they may legally engage in lobster harvesting, that licence has to be subject to the vessel continuing to meet the technical requirements of safety or seaworthiness imposed upon the vessel by the Maritime Authority of Jamaica."