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SVG in hot water over fishing vessels with country’s flag

SVG in hot water over fishing vessels with country’s flag

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St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG) has landed on the European Union’s (EU) radar over the questionable practices of locally registered vessels that fish in international waters.

On Wednesday, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Saboto Caesar told SEARCHLIGHT the Government had received official communication from the European Union (EU) mission in Barbados, informing them that this country has been listed as a non-cooperating state, as it pertains to illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

But the listing by the EU does not relate to Vincentian fishermen, only the 33 vessels that are owned by Taiwanese companies, registered here and flying the Vincentian flag.

In an official statement, the EU explained that for SVG, the decision resulted from the lack of control by the authorities here. It added that these vessels operate all over the Atlantic and offload their catches in Trinidad and Tobago, in the process eluding any control, leading to concerns about the legality of their practices.

Official documents show that two vessels from SVG are already on an international vessel “black list,” compiled by regional fisheries management organizations.

Caesar explained that there are several matters of concern that have been raised by the EU, the main being SVG’s inability “at all times” to verify what is being caught by these vessels.

“I want to make the distinction that it is not an issue which touches and concerns fish which is caught within the jurisdiction of SVG, in its territorial waters, or its exclusive economic zone. This issue is about fish caught on the high seas by vessels registered in SVG, therefore bearing the SVG flag,” the Fisheries Minister said.

He added that in order to get off the EU’s radar, SVG must place trained observers onboard all the vessels and have the fish landed in SVG, instead of Trinidad and Tobago, while this country must establish a fully functioning monitoring unit within the Division of Fisheries that will always know where these vessels are.

Caesar said that the EU thinks that Trinidad does not have the requisite monitoring framework to monitor for St Vincent and the Grenadines what is being caught by these vessels.

In response, Caesar said, the Government is moving speedily to address the situation and a lot of good can come from what seems to be something negative.

“I don’t want this to be seen as a disaster; instead it is an opportunity,” Caesar said, explaining that if the vessels could land their catch here, it would be a boost to the fishing sector and economy.

Employment will be created, he said, as this country would prefer the observers on these vessels to be trained Vincentians.

Currently, these vessels are monitored by the Fisheries Division about 14 hours a day during the week and even less on weekends. The monitoring is done through global charts that show the location of each vessels.

Caesar said that if the Government had asked the Taiwanese companies managing these vessels to have the fish landed in SVG, that would not have been practical, because the fish would have to then be transhipped to Trinidad, where the airlift capacity exists.

With the deployment of a 767 aircraft by Amerijet to service the island through the Argyle International Airport (AIA), the Minister added, up to 110,000 pounds of produce can now be flown out twice weekly.

“Amerijet is providing the capacity and by January 1, 2018, based on discussions with several airlines, we should have an airlift capacity for 300,000 pounds of cargo every week and that now can be dovetailed with our quest to have the fish landed in SVG,” said Caesar.

“We are seeing an opportunity whereby it’s not the Government asking the companies to land their fish here, but the EU is asking that the fish be landed here because it would increase our ability to effectively monitor what is being caught and it is going to be an excellent opportunity for us to export more fish from SVG, to have more persons working on these vessels,” stressed Caesar.

Caesar said that in the meanwhile they would continue to pursue a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Trinidad and Tobago, through which that country would monitor fish landed there by vessels flying the St Vincent and the Grenadines flag. The draft MOU has already been sent to Trinidad for review and approval.

He said that if the issue is not rectified, vessels leaving SVG with fish will not be able to go into EU ports like Martinique and Guadeloupe.

The Comoros has also been identified as non-cooperating, while Liberia has been pre-identified.

EU Commissioner for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Karmenu Vella said while they do not like to impose sanctions on third world countries, they recognized that sometimes clear action is needed.

“We invite the Comoros and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines to seriously step up their fight against illegal fishing, so that we can reverse this decision quickly,” Vella added.

It was noted by the EU that the decision to tackle SVG was the result of thorough analyses, following informal and formal discussions with the relevant authorities in the country.

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