John Myers Jr., Agriculture Coordinator
The Ministry of Agriculture and Lands' Fisheries Division is to suspend the issuing of fishing licences as part of efforts to stop the haemorrhaging of the island's industry.
André Kong, director of fisheries, said a recommendation has been made for the suspension to be effective in the next financial year (April 2007) for a suggested period of five years to allow Jamaica's overfished areas to recuperate.
He said the Fisheries Division is to embark on an islandwide relicensing drive before it implements the temporary suspension. Jamaica's most fertile fishing grounds are located in and around the Pedro Cays, which are about 80 kilometres off the south coast.
"What we are going to do is, we are going to license everybody and we are going to have a moratorium for a period of time," Mr. Kong explained during a Gleaner Editors' Forum yesterday at the newspaper's North Street offices, central Kingston.
"It is not yet cast in stone, but we are looking at a priority system (and) a moratorium for issuing the licences," he noted.
Decline in catchment
The decision has come in a light of statistics indicating a significant decline in the catchment from Jamaica's fishing grounds even as more persons attempt to eke out a living from the industry. It is estimated that the number of fishermen has increased to some 40,000, with another 75,000 persons indirectly deriving their livelihood from the industry.
Dr. Christopher Tufton, Opposition Senator and caretaker for South East St. Elizabeth, said the industry has declined in terms of catch by somewhere in the region of 40 to 60 per cent "when you talk to the industry players."
Figures available from the Agriculture Ministry show that the fish catch for 2004/05 declined 11.6 per cent to just over 8,000 tonnes.
Dr. Tufton, who was also participating in the Editors' Forum on the fisheries industry, added that the industry was not only declining in terms of the quantity of catch, "but also if one examines quality, catch quality and so on, one has to conclude also that that has been in decline."
Peter Espeut, environmentalist and executive director of
the Caribbean Coastal Area Management (C-CAM) Foundation, based in Lionel Town, Clarendon, agreed that the fisheries industry was experiencing a serious downturn.