Thu | Sep 28, 2023

Editorial | Talk turkey about fishing

Published:Thursday | December 29, 2022 | 12:53 AM

We welcome Jamaica’s stab at joined-up government to combat illegal fishing and related crimes in its waters, as well as note the island’s receptiveness to being the Caribbean hub for the Norway-funded Blue Justice Initiative (BJI) that supports such efforts in developing countries.

These developments, however, remind of, and raise questions about, the status of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism, a Caribbean Community (CARICOM) agency charged with ensuring “the efficient management and sustainable development of marine and other marine resources” in its member states. Which implies that there ought to be a high level of cooperation already within CARICOM on fisheries issues.

At the same time, the focus on tackling illegal and unregulated fishing should include greater transparency in the work of Jamaica’s National Fisheries Authority (NFA), the sector’s regulatory body, and National Fisheries Advisory Council whose mandate is to help frame the country’s fisheries and aquaculture policies.

These two bodies, creatures of the new Fisheries Act passed four years ago, may well be hard at work, accomplishing much. However, most people, including key constituents, remain in the dark about their efforts.

If they have communication/engagement strategies, they have not worked well. These, therefore, may be in need of rejigging, or complete overhaul.


This newspaper takes this matter seriously on several accounts. While fishing accounts for less than half of one per cent of Jamaica’s gross domestic product, it provides jobs for an estimated 20,000 fishers, and the fisheries sector as a whole is double that amount, according to data published by the Caribbean Natural Resources Institute. Overall, though, with direct and indirect impacts taken into account, fishing is estimated to contribute to the livelihoods of around 100,000 people, or over seven per cent of the current labour force.

Moreover, the industry helps to keep many coastal communities afloat and contributes not insignificantly to the island’s food security.

However, the domestic fishing industry faces several threats. Jamaica’s coastal communities are particularly vulnerable to the climate change phenomenon of rising sea levels. Indeed, several of the island’s fishing beaches are already badly eroded, or completely lost.

Further, many reef species of fish, despite some recovery in recent years, are in short supply, having been overfished by the island’s mainly artisanal fishers.

New regulatory powers and stiffer penalties, provided by the new Fisheries Act, were expected to accelerate the recovery of fish stocks. It, however, is not clear to what extent that has happened. The NFA does not regularly publish performance analyses on the sector. But according to the Planning Institute of Jamaica, the 10,094 tonnes of marine species (including conch, lobster and shrimp) harvested in Jamaica in 2020 was 15.6 per cent lower than previous year, and a decline of nearly a third (32.4 per cent) on the 2017 figure.

These difficulties are exacerbated by one of the problems that last month’s launch of the Multi-Agency Fisheries Crime Coordinating Mechanism is intended to counter – the theft of fishing resources.

Indeed, there are frequent complaints, and sometimes prosecution in domestic courts, of foreign fishers operating illegally in Jamaica’s territorial waters and exclusive economic zone. At last month’s launch of the multi-agency mechanism, the agriculture minister, Pearnel Charles Jr, said recent estimates this year suggest that Jamaica has suffered losses of up to $200 million in illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, with significant losses from lucrative catch like conch and lobster. Some experts, though, suggest that the minister’s figure may be conservative.


With the new arrangement, a slew of government ministries and agencies – Major Organised Crime and Anti-Corruption Agency; Jamaica Customs Agency; National Land Agency; Planning Institute of Jamaica; Ministry of Labour and Social Security; Port Authority of Jamaica; the Jamaica Defence Force; Jamaica Constabulary Force; Passport, Immigration and Citizenship Agency; and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Trade – pledged to work cooperatively, and with other domestic and international partners, against fisheries resources theft and related crimes, which sometimes include smuggling, people trafficking and forced labour.

The undertaking, according to the NFA’s CEO, Gavin Bellamy, underscored the agencies’ understanding of the need “to unite, communicate and share vital information to make our individual and collective responsibilities easier and more efficient”. Which, largely, is what Norway’s Blue Justice Initiative, with administrative support from the UN’s Blue Resilience Project, hopes to advance by providing technical assistance to participating countries.

Most CARICOM members, which are also party to a global agreement to combat fisheries crime, have signed on – apparently as individual states – to the Blue Justice programme.

This newspaper supports any initiative that will bolster Jamaica’s, and the Caribbean’s, efforts to deal with a real, and serious, problem. However, we would prefer that these efforts, even with Jamaica as a Caribbean hub for the BJI, not be disparate and fragmented. Or that the region not approach every proposed solution to a problem as an opportunity for the reinvention of the wheel.

That is why there should be clarity on the current state of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism and of its role in the Blue Justice Initiative.

A bane of CARICOM, as with too many partner governments, is that it does not often enough speak – or speak lucidly, in easily understood language – to the people of the region. Perhaps it might on this matter.

So, too, should Jamaica’s fisheries agencies about their policies, programmes and outcomes.