After 28 years and five drafts the Trinidad and Tobago government has finally produced a new Fisheries Management Bill to replace the 104 year-old Fisheries Act.
In laying the Bill in parliament on Friday June 12, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley traced the effort back to 1992 in his first year in government as the Minister of Agriculture, Land and Marine Resources when he initiated the early revisions of the 1916 Act. That process turned into a lengthy and circuitous route which, as he described it, “spanned almost three decades, with legislative review exercises being undertaken in five major periods 1992 to 1997; 2004 to 2007; 2010 to 2012; 2013 to 2015 and 2017 to present, with five drafts Bill being developed in 2007, 2011, 2014, 2015 and this 2020 Bill that is being laid in the House of Representatives.”
Apart from Trinidad and Tobago’s need to protect its fisherfolk and promote the sustainability of fishing stock and grounds, the review of the 2015 Bill and the subsequent Plan of Action, was spurred on by the ‘Yellow Card’ given to Trinidad and Tobago in 2016 by the European Commission Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (EC DG MARE).
According to Dr Rowley, the revisions of the 2015 Bill needed to consider the “severe inadequacies” in management arrangements for Illegal, Unreported and Unregulated (IUU) Fishing and the fact that Trinidad and Tobago was in danger of receiving a ‘Red Card’ if it did not increase its management of IUU. The consequences of a Red Card, he noted, would be “catastrophic not only to our local fisheries sector, but also to our regional neighbours and to our relationship on this and other matters with the EU.”
The 2020 Bill brings the management of fisheries into the modern era with at least nine clauses which focus on strengthening the scientific and data systems to support the sustainable management of fish stocks. Such a requirement has long been a weakness as a result of a severely-outdated Fisheries Management Act. In its ‘State of the Marine Environment’ report in 2016, the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) identified the lack of up-to-date and verifiable data on fisheries as one of the central barriers to supporting sustainable and strategic management of fisheries.
The IMA also categorically stated that the “marine fisheries resources of Trinidad and Tobago are either heavily exploited or over exploited,” which can result in the complete loss of some of the most commercially viable species within our fishing grounds.
Another key consideration of the 2020 Bill is the role that regional and global partnerships play in the sustainable management of fisheries, including the compilation and sharing of fisheries data with regional/sub-regional fisheries management organisations; the integration of development plans with regional priorities; and the possible use of international or regional conservation measures in the development of terms and conditions for licenses.
This need for a regional approach was highlighted through the 2007 ‘Caribbean Sea Assessment’ which noted that a “major shortcoming of most approaches and programmes for fisheries management is that they tend to follow a ‘state-centred’ paradigm, which does not necessarily follow the way that nature or society operates… Many living marine resources are trans-boundary in nature, and require governance structures that are capable of operating at different geographic scales depending on the specific type of fishery.”
Dr Rowley expressed the hope that the design of the 2020 Bill, through the flexibility it creates for the expansion of the country’s regional and international obligations, will maintain its viability for at least another twenty years. The Bill, which requires a special three-fifths majority to be passed, has been referred to a Joint Select Committee of Parliament for review before debate in the House
In our follow up to the deliberations on the new 2020 Fisheries Management Bill, we will look closer at what civil society and the fisherfolk themselves hope to see in this 21st century Bill.