Concern about lack of commitment to fisheries sector

CASTRIES, St Lucia, July 31, 2009 – St Lucia’s Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ezekiel Joseph has expressed concern that some Caribbean nations seem to be showing less commitment than others to the development of the fisheries sector in this region.

Speaking at the opening ceremony for the Seventh Meeting of the Caribbean Fisheries Forum of the Caribbean Regional Fisheries Mechanism (CRFM) in St Lucia this week, Joseph sent the message that there must be a higher level of commitment to the development of the sector, or there would be no development.

Joseph’s comments come on the heels of the failure of the CRFM’s First Special Meeting of the Ministerial Council in St Vincent in May to achieve a quorum from its 19-member states.

He also said that the playing field was not level in regional fisheries and he urged those countries that were more advanced in terms of technology, equipment and financing to work with their less advantaged counterparts to help bring their fisheries sectors up to par.

The Caribbean Fisheries Forum is comprised of chief fisheries officers and technical advisors from across the member states and operates as the main advisory body for the CRFM, which is the Caribbean Community (CARICOM) agency responsible for fisheries.

With St Lucia as the new chair of the Caribbean Fisheries Forum, Joseph identified fund raising among the concerns that he wanted to see addressed over the next year. The CRFM is currently facing arrears by several member nations and Joseph said there was a need to develop projects within its work plan that would encourage more funding from international agencies.

He added that one of the initiatives he wanted the body to explore was the creation of a regional insurance fund for fishers, noting the challenge that St Lucia faced in responding to the damage in its fisheries sector when Hurricane Dean struck in 2007. Joseph also called on the CRFM to promote the move away from traditional fishing technology toward more advanced technology.

The St Lucia minister also challenged member states to discuss illegal unreported and unregulated fishing openly, recognising that it was not only foreign fishing boats entering Caribbean waters that were the culprits. He added that issue could only be addressed by a collective solution that addressed the illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing by Caribbean fishers.

The minister’s comments were supported by Hugh Saul, executive director of the CRFM, who said in his closing remarks that the fishing industry was a sustainable alternative to the declining sugar, coconut and banana industries, but only if CRFM member states gave the fishing industry the financial and technical resources it needed.

“Member states must stop paying lip service to fisheries, its technical and support services, and related industries, and should commit themselves to providing policy guidelines and adequate resources for its growth, management and development,” challenged Saul.