Tobago fisherfolk to THA Chief Sec: Seek our interest or pay political price

Curtis Douglas, left, vice president of the All Tobago Fisherfolk Association, speaks with reporters in Scarborough on Tuesday. – David Reid

THE All Tobago Fisherfolk Association (ATFA) has called on the Prime Minister and Tobago House of Assembly Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis to seek their interest or pay a political price in the December 6 THA election.

At a news conference in Scarborough on Tuesday, the association continued its war of words with BHP Trinidad, claiming exploration vessels from the drilling company interfered with their fishing grounds.

ATFA vice president Curtis Douglas claimed, “Last week the exploration boat was five miles from sand to sea” off Speyside. He said the operations destroyed fishing pots, disturbed fishing activity and cut fish aggregating devices (FADs).

Earlier this year, the association claimed a geotechnical survey went beyond agreed upon guidelines and had negatively affected the livelihoods of its membership.

However, BHP’s principal media relations officer Judy Dane told Newsday in July all regulatory protocols in securing environmental clearance for the survey were followed, including writing to all relevant organisations.

Douglas said on Tuesday, fishermen are losing up to $10,000 a day when their FADs are cut loose.

He called for the immediate resignation of THA Director of Fisheries Garth Ottley for failing to address years of concerns by Tobago fishermen.

Douglas said attempts to address the matter with Dennis, who is also Secretary for the Division of Food Production, Forestry and Fisheries, proved futile.

“We are asking that he do his job, and if he refuses to do his job – we are not sending threats – but December 6 is close and all these fisherfolk will not be jumping and saying ‘Yay,’ because we are disgruntled and upset and unable to feed our families.”

ATFA said Dennis has also failed to intervene on their behalf.

“We sent him letters, text messages and he keeps cancelling our meeting without giving us another date. If he doesn’t want to do the job he should give it to someone else that could.”

Douglas said efforts to seek compensation have been restricted by red tape.

“BHP has two technical officers that operate out of Tobago and we cannot tell when last we had a consultation. What’s hurting is that when we submit our claims we have to do it directly to the oil company and not to the (fisheries) division that’s supposed to stand for us.”

The association threatened to do all that is necessary for its members’ voices to be heard.

“We are under pressure, and no longer we are going to sit by idly – enough is enough… “We are not going to burn tyres, we are not going to destroy government property, we are coming out peacefully and making our claims. We are not going to stop the ferry today, and we are not going to shut down Scarborough today, but our voice must be heard. And our claims must be honoured by any means and all means necessary.”

Contacted for a response, Ottley accused ATFA of creating mischief “to bully the fisheries department into moving.”

“I’m not resigning. There’s no need for that since I have been working and trying my best to reach out to all fishermen to improve the industry in Tobago. ATFA continues to act unconstitutionally and I will not be distracted.”

Ottley said the THA is restricted in how it can intervene in matters involving oil companies in Tobago.

Efforts to contact BHP Trinidad for a response were unsuccessful as questions e-mailed on Tuesday were not answered up to press time.

Dennis also did not reply to questions sent to him via WhatsApp on Tuesday.