Tobago fishermen warn of drastic increase in prices

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Fish vendor Amy McMillan prepares a fresh catch of Bonito for a customer at Pigeon Point Fish Market on Tuesday. – Photo by David Reid

President of All Tobago Fisherfolk Association (ATFA) Curtis Douglas has hinted at a drastic increase in the cost of fish for the Easter season.

Speaking with Newsday on Tuesday, Douglas said the island’s fishing community faces an excessive number of problems.

“With the increase in the gas prices and we have a lot of oil rigs passing and cutting away the fishing devices of fishermen, it is very costly for fishermen now.” He said fish aggregating devices (FADs) in the northern and eastern coasts of Tobago were damaged.

Noting the increase in fuel prices, he said the prices of fish rose to $35 a pound and could head further upwards to $45 and $50 per pound.

He said the fishermen are asking for the THA to intervene through gas rebates.“Fishermen still are not getting gas rebates so it is very difficult. When you spend all that amount of money – gas raise, everything raises except salaries.”

He said the fishermen are not satisfied with the current subsidies: 10 cents on diesel, 12 cents on gasoline and 75 cents on oil, paid by the THA department of Marine Resources and Fisheries under the Division of Food Security, Natural Resources, the Environment and Sustainable Development.

He said ATFA has also informed the THA about the problem with the rigs and informed several energy companies, who have all denied culpability. He said the issue of gas rebate has not been dealt with by the THA.

“We would have also spoken to them in terms of the gas rebate. We would have worked out a plan whereby explaining to them if you should give us 20 cents on gas rebates, that would not be enough to carry down the price, so we would suggest 25 cent or even 50 cents, that would be quite adequate so that you can stabilise the price of fish to between $20-$25 per pound. With that, we can now get the rebate so there is no need for fishermen to sell their price at $35 and $40 and $50 per pound, it would already be subsidised by someone, meaning the THA.”

Another factor that could affect the fish prices is the rough seas. On Tuesday the Met Office issued a hazardous seas yellow-level alert, which went into effect from Tuesday and lasts until next Monday.

A press release issued a 11.55 am said that the alert is for near-shore areas of Tobago, and northern, eastern,western coastal and sheltered areas of Trinidad. It remains in effect up until noon on March 6.

The Met Office said people with marine interests should carefully monitor near-shore and coastal sea conditions and exercise caution along affected areas. Marine activities should be avoided in areas of concern.

Douglas said the fishermen need more direct aid.

“There was inadequate support through the director of fisheries. People are saying the secretary, but the director of fisheries and the administrator, they are the ones that make things happen, not the politician. We’re not getting that co-operation from the administrative process from the fisheries department. Trinidad (fishermen) would get it but the director here is making it very difficult for the fishermen here, so I think we have to go higher than the assembly here.”He said they have also written to the Minister of Finance but to date have not received a response.

“What I would like to see is that when the oil rigs are coming to Tobago, that the chief secretary is informed. ATFA should also be informed. We can have a sit around the table and treat with it so that it wouldn’t damage the property of the fish-attracting devices.”

In June 2022, the Department of Marine Resources and Fisheries relaunched the National Gas Rebate Incentive Programme, saying that the programme is designed to compensate registered fishermen for fuel and oil required to ply their trade.

When contacted, Director of the Fisheries Department Garth Ottley said the subsidy was set by the Ministry of Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries and not the department, adding that the division cannot increase the subsidy. He said to date only two fishermen on island have been registered for the said subsidy.