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Fisheries floundering - Audit shows division failing to properly regulate industry

Published:Wednesday | January 21, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Christopher Serju, Gleaner Writer

The damning picture of incompetence, negligence and delinquency at the Fisheries Division in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, highlighted by the latest Auditor General's Department report, is not likely to improve any time soon, according to Permanent Secretary Donovan Stanberry.

"That is something that was rehashed from a previous report," Stanberry told The Gleaner recently, in reference to the auditor general's 2014 report tabled in Parliament last week. The report noted that some of the outstanding issues identified in 2008 had still not been addressed, mainly because of a lack of resources.

"The resource issue has not changed, so my comments would be the same - that we still don't have the resources to put in place a proper licensing and management mechanism. And that is why we're moving to an executive-agency status that would be properly staffed to deal with all these things," the permanent secretary said.

The 2008 management audit of the Fisheries Division identified two main areas that needed urgent attention: promulgation of the revised Fishing Industry Act of 1975 to secure the sustainability of Jamaica's 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.

"We also recommended that the FD (Fisheries Division) ensure that all fishers and boats be registered and licensed and action taken against identified offenders in keeping with the law," the Auditor General's Department said in its most recent report.

The report found that of the approximately 21,937 registered fishers as at March 2014, only 3,091 were licensed, a non-compliance of 86 per cent. In addition, of the 6,411 registered vessels, only 105 were licensed, reflecting a non-compliance rate of 98 per cent. This has not improved much in respect of the number of registered fishers, which stood at 17,552 in May 2008, of whom only 1,928 were licensed, a non-compliance rate of 89 per cent.

The registration of boats shows a marginal increase since 2008, when 187 of the 4,719 registered vessels were licensed, a non-compliance of 96 per cent.

LOTS OF UNCERTAINTY

The 2014 report said 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 to be registered and licensed. As such, there is some uncertainty surrounding the number of unregistered and unlicensed fishers and vessels operating in Jamaican waters.

Another key finding from the 2008 audit that holds true today, according to the Auditor General's Department, is that the monitoring, control and surveillance activities, which had been affected by inadequate staffing and limited financial resources, are being made worse by inefficiency in recording and reporting on such activities.

Also, it said the Fisheries Division did not have a compli-ance unit and relies heavily on its enforcement partners, including the marine police and coastguard.

The auditor general was also unable to determine the level of monitoring conducted during the annual lobster closed seasons between 2009 and 2013, as the requested reports were not presented.

In fact, the division disclosed that because of cash-flow challenges, it had to curtail mandatory inspections at hotels and food establishments during the closed season for lobsters.

"Consequently, there was no assurance that fishers were complying with fishing regulations, including [not using] legal fishing gear," the Auditor General's Department concluded.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com