Not for the first time, we have been left with no choice but to appreciate our foreparents, who even though they had little in the way of this earth’s natural resources and certainly limited access to higher education displayed a wisdom that we can only admire and aspire to.
This bit of sagacity was demonstrated last week, after a hue and cry ensued when a hotelier cum fisherman brought to the public’s attention that Chinese nationals were buying up as much of the lobsters that they would lay their hands on and filling 40 – foot containers to be shipped to Guyana.
The whistle blower said he feared that the Chinese were attempting to corner the market. His beef was that the Asians were able to purchase the commodity at a higher price than the local go betweens. He also alleged other incentives were also being offered and that only the dregs were left for local consumption or to be sold to local hotels.
According to the disgruntled hotelier, almost 90 per cent of the fishermen were engaging in the practice. The end result is that the few crustaceans available were now being sold at a grossly inflated price.
The dangers inherent in this new development are so obvious that when an environmentalist pointed them out, the attitude was “We been there and said that.”
Overfishing, leading to a depletion of this resource is the most obvious. It cannot have escaped the sellers that they are killing the proverbial goose that lays the golden egg. Fishermen know that lobsters are not infinite. They, like fish, need time to grow and replenish, and the constant raiding of the same areas in the quest for more and yet more will only lead to the death of the industry.
From time to time we have heard their representative complain that the catch has become less and less and that they must go farther and farther and stay out longer in order to reap the amounts to which they have become accustomed.
The buzz these past number of years has been sustainable use of resources. Without setting a foot in any institution, the folks of old knew from observation that it was not possible to grow the same crops year after year and get the same yields. They were aware that the land had to lie fallow and recuperate. Fishermen also knew that they had to move their fishing grounds from time to time so as not to over fish any one area.
The man who brought all this to the fore hit the nail on the head when he said, ”As far as I know, we have the worst fishermen on the earth. They don’t consider nothing but bribe and money.”
It is past time that government step in to protect us from ourselves. In many parts of the Caribbean and Florida there is a closed season of four and half months for lobsters. The closest we have come to any kind of control is the Fisheries Department appealing to fishermen not to catch lobsters that are spawning or undersized.
A step in the right direction was made in 2004 when government passed the Fisheries Act. It is nothing short of shameful that the regulations are yet to be signed to give full teeth to the law. At its most cogent, the act gives the chief fisheries officer extensive powers. The Fisheries Department would then have the authority to bring people up on charges and to institute a closed season for certain kinds of fish and lobster.
It is perhaps ironic that the Fisherman’s Co-operative has belatedly weighed in on the issue, to the extent that a delegation has gone to see the prime minister about the matter.
There is a maxim that says there is safety in numbers and that collectively we are stronger together. The whole idea behind a cooperative is for people to pool their resources for the good of the whole.
If a new market has opened to sell lobsters to the Chinese, the Fisherman’s Cooperative should have been the entity to be approached. In that way the prices could have been set by the body and it, too, would have determined the quantities to be sold and thus avoiding the inherent dangers in overfishing.
The cooperative is now is beating its breast and crying foul. We can only hope it is not too late to undue the damage and to start afresh.