Sun | Aug 20, 2017

Praedial thieves stalk fisheries

Published:Monday | January 30, 2017 | 1:16 PM

The impact of wide-scale theft in the aquaculture industry has been as devastating to fish farmers as with the entire agriculture sector, forcing several overseas and local investors out of business and leaving hundreds out of work in the process.

It is for this reason that some operators in the aquaculture industry have put measures in place in order to prevent losses. According to Noel Thompson, farm manager at Algix Jamaica, his security bill of $1.5 million monthly is one of the highest operational costs for the three-year-old firm.

"Praedial larceny is not a threat to us at this time. We employ a variety of hi-tech surveillance equipment, and in addition, we have day and night security patrols along the perimeter. Praedial larceny is an issue with tilapia production because that fish has much higher production costs than basa," he said.

"Because basa has much lower production costs, on the otherhand, the extra money saved is more than enough to equip any farm with a proper security system whether it is fencing, security patrols, or cameras, or drones. Praedial larceny can destroy lives. whether it's a small business or a large company, any smart business operation is in business to make profit, and if this is not in the forecast, they will close down, which means more people joining the unemployment line," he said.

great loss annually

Loss of agricultural produce as a result of praedial larceny has been estimated at approximately J$5 billion annually, according to the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

According to a 2014 paper from the ministry, the aquaculture sector has declined over the past decade, from producing approximately 7,000 metric tonnes of tilapia in 2007 to a mere 600 metric tonnes in 2016.

Thompson would have had first-hand experience of the devastating impact praedial larceny can have on farming operations, having held a senior position at the now defunct US firm Trans-Global Aquaculture limited, the shrimp farm operation that was forced out of business after 12 years in 2013.

Trans-Global poured over US$6 million into its start-up to satisfy markets in the United States, Canada, Taiwan, and Japan, with Europe, specifically Spain and France, targeted as secondary markets. The firm had a production target of between 10 and 12 million pounds of shrimp per year, and at the height of production, employed 250 workers.

In 2015, Trudy-Ann Edwards, a praedial larceny coordinator at the agriculture ministry, said that the highest incidence of praedial larceny and other farm theft has been reported in the parishes of St Catherine, Clarendon, St Elizabeth, St Mary, and Manchester, with an accompanying 2014 study showing that 50-80 per cent of farm theft is experienced at the parish level, while 68 per cent takes place at the national level.

She also stated that between January 2014 and January 2015, 873 incidents of farm theft were reported to the Jamaica Constabulary Force; however, only 237 arrests were made and 39 persons convicted.

- M.T.