ST JOHN’S, Antigua – Amid increasing concerns over how government has handled the management of the twin islands’ marine resources, fisheries minister Hilson Baptiste announced on Monday that he will approve the draft regulations governing the crucial sector.
The minister told OBSERVER Media, cognisant of his responsibilities, he will act to ensure that only the best regulations are approved.
To that end, Baptiste disclosed that he recently began putting a committee together to review the draft that has remained unsigned for more than five years.
“As I speak to you I am putting a committee together to go over the regulations to ensure that everybody agrees and are willing to comply with it,” he said.
“Everybody the regulations are going to affect must be part of the debate.”
The minister said all stakeholders will be engaged by the committee which will be headed by Chief Fisheries Officer Cheryl Jeffrey-Appleton and will commence work from Monday.
Baptiste expects that it will not be long after the committee meets for the regulations to receive his signature.
“It could not have happened before because I was travelling for the last two weeks. We will meet on Monday and go over it and after one week or so regulations would be in place.”
Baptiste has been the centre of criticism in recent months for not doing enough to see the regulations through, but he thinks the criticism is politically motivated.
“Why are people just making it a problem? People are just putting politics in everything,” he said.
“Why would I not want the regulations if I put a committee in place to look at it?”
He has also dismissed a petition by the Antigua Conservation Association (ACS) calling on government to fast-track the fisheries regulations as a “waste of time.”
Fears of over fishing and harmful practices have prompted calls for the implementation of the fisheries regulations in recent weeks.
Lobster, and more recently the parrotfish, are among species that interest groups believe are under threat because of dangerous practices aided and abetted by outdated fisheries regulations.
If implemented, the new regulations will give authorities the power to effect a closed season for fishing and crack down on illegal practices in the sector.
(More in today’s Daily OBSERVER)