Tue | Dec 6, 2016

Expert cuts holes in auditor general's net

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

One of Jamaica's leading marine scientists has taken issue with aspects of the 2014 Auditor General's Department's report relating to some operations of the Fisheries Division (FD) in the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

"Insufficient biological and catch information hindered informed decision-making on the status of lobster fishery," noted a section of the report, under the heading 'Key Finding No. 5 from the 2008 Audit'.

"As observed in the 2008 audit, FD was not collecting sufficient information on fishing activities to give a true representation of the number and species of fish and lobster landed by fishers. FD indicated that [it] had to reduce data collection from twice to once weekly due to financial constraints," the report said.

It continued: "Consequently, FD is not able to have a reasonable appreciation of the country's fish and lobster stock."

This is the section that Dr Karl Aiken takes issue with, arguing that such a conclusion is inaccurate.

"No, no. That's patently untrue. That is nonsense," the senior lecturer in the Department of Life Sciences in the Faculty of Science and Technology at the University of the West Indies, Mona, told The Gleaner on Monday.

"We must remember that it has been badly underfunded and understaffed for a very long time and, therefore, if their charge, if their aegis, if their responsibility is to administer fisheries, knowing the full suite of species and so on that is landed is not really that crucial to their operation," Aiken explained. "This is because they are not scientists. They are really administrators who also do some science."

RESEARCH DATA AVAILABLE

One of the key issues not reflected in the auditor general's report, according to Aiken, is the results of comprehensive research accumulated over many decades, conducted by the university, some of it in collaboration with the Fisheries Division.

The marine scientist pointed to the Munro Fisheries Ecology Research Project four decades ago, which presented the results of detailed studies of the sea fishes around Jamaica and the fishes of Pedro Banks, and which generated 14 reports, two of which he wrote.

"In those reports are listed the hundreds of species of fishes, lobsters, crabs and so forth that make up the 99 per cent of the animals that are caught on a regular basis around Jamaica.

"So we've had that in hand. Fisheries has had that in hand for around 40 years. So rest assured, we have a full list if you were to imagine that we have hundreds of species that can be caught in Jamaica," Aiken said.

christopher.serju@gleanerjm.com