THE GOVERNMENT is taking steps to dramatically reduce the number of fisherfolk now occupying the Pedro Cays.
Agriculture Minister Roger Clarke announced on Tuesday that the number of fishing licences to be issued this year for fishing on the cays was 380.
This represents a significant decline from the estimated 600 people on the cays during the conch season.
"We will be intensifying enforcement activities by the Marine Police, the JDF Coast Guard and the Fisheries Division to ensure that only people in possession of a licence will be allowed to remain there," Clarke said in a statement to Parliament.
According to Clarke, two fisheries officers would be deployed to the cays to enforce the new licensing regime. They will be assisted by the Marine Police and JDF Coast Guard.
Quizzed by Opposition Spokesman on Agriculture J.C. Hutchinson, the minister revealed that there were no bathroom facilities at Pedro Cays. "In their own kind of way, they dispose of waste," Clarke told his parliamentary colleagues.
In another two weeks, the health ministry is expected to provide recommendations on the kind of sanitation system that is required to support the number of licensees that would be allowed to stay on the cays.
Commenting earlier, Clarke said the unsatisfactory state of sanitation on the cays had become alarming, given the implication for public health and the environment.
Meanwhile, Clarke reported that $2.4 million was allocated from the Fisheries Management Development Fund to undertake clean up of the cays.
He said the National Solid Waste Management Authority removed more than 1,500 bags of garbage from the area.
Environmentalists have stressed that with an estimated 99 per cent of mainland, Jamaica's reefs are in danger. The coral reefs on Pedro Banks are vital to long-term reef conservation in the country.