Fri | Jan 19, 2018

Agri ministry blamed for stalled fisheries industry legislation

Published:Monday | January 30, 2017 | 12:00 AMChristopher Serju
Marlene Malahoo Forte
Karl Samuda

The Ministry of Agriculture, which stands to benefit most from modern and comprehensive legislation governing the operations of its Fisheries Division, has been blamed for the lengthy delay in completing the three decades-long effort to update the Fishing Industry Act of 1976.

Review of the outdated law started in 1995 and, 22 years later, the draft bill is still floundering, due in large measure to obstinacy on the part of the parent ministry.

"I can confirm that the Fisheries Bill is indeed with us in the chambers for our comment ... but by and large, the problem has been that the comments from the chambers have not been reflected in subsequent drafts and there is a reason why the chambers have to vet the bill. And if parent ministries do not take on the comments or give an explanation, it will cause some delay," Attorney General Marlene Malahoo Forte disclosed on Friday.




"The new iterations of the bill come from time to time. We make the comments and when the comments go back to the Ministry of Agriculture and come back, then it's not reflected... and that is part of the challenge we face."

The attorney general went on to explain that her office does not initiate bills, but has a responsibility to ensure that draft bills are meticulously

examined to ensure that they are consistent with the country's legal framework.

"We ensure that there is no inconsistency or incoherency and that the policy as promulgated is properly reflected in the bill. So that's part of the review that the chambers does on draft bills. We raise questions to see whether if you amend one bit of the law, if it is in conflict with another piece of legislation because legislation works as part of scheme; the bill itself will have a scheme and it is part of a wider set of legislation."

... Overdue act to be fast-tracked

Minister of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries Karl Samuda has indicated that the Attorney General's office, in response to prodding from his ministry, had agreed to fast track the long due update to the Fishing Industry Act of 1976.

"I just spoke to the AG (attorney general) and there is renewed energy and everybody blaming one another, saying they didn't move fast enough... . It's gonna be coming out of the Attorney General's chambers next week. It will come back to us and then we will complete the process," Samuda assured.

A 2008 management audit of the Fisheries Division identified two main areas that needed urgent attention - promulgation of the revised Fishing Industry Act to secure the sustainability of the local fishing industry, as well as institutional strengthening to enhance the division's capacity to effect monitoring control and surveillance activities in keeping with its mandate.

Six years later, the Auditor General's Department reported that many of the outstanding issues identified in 2008 had still not been address due to lack of resources. According to the 2014 report, the audit did not identify any concerted efforts by the Fisheries Division to ensure that fishers comply with the Fishing Industries Act, which requires that all fishers and vessels be registered and licensed. As such, there is some uncertainty surrounding the number of unregistered and unlicensed fishers and vessels operating in Jamaican waters.