Recurrent user conflicts in fisheries
By Professor Julian Kenny.

The print and electronic media have recently given sharp focus to deep seated problems in our local fisheries. This is as it should be, but sometimes emotions get in the way of facts, leading to distortions and calls for one or another course of political action. User conflicts are and have been the norm of exploitation of fish stocks for decades, as one type of technology or another group of fishermen apply additional pressure to a particular stock of the resource. Anyone following the international scene will no doubt have noted the conflicts on the Grand Banks of New Foundland, the Georges Bank, Iceland and the North Sea. The problem is related to the nature of the resource and nature of Man, the hunter predator species. The problem is simple and complicated at he same time.

Wild fish populations and natural forests are generally accepted to be what are called renewable resources; meaning they can be harvested at certain levels without causing collapse of the stock. These levels are referred to as maximum or optimal sustainable yields. These parameters are easy to visualize. The really difficult parts of management of the resource are determining the numbers and ensuring that the yields are not exceeding through a variety of regulatory mechanisms. Conventionally the mechanisms include closed seasons, closed conservation areas, quotas, gear restrictions and licensing regimes. The problem becomes far more complicated in tropical forests and fisheries where species diversity is far greater than in temperate climes.

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Our fishing fleet is far from homogeneous. The traditional element is the pirogue, operating from a beach or fishing center, mechanized to varying degrees, and operating on a day or night trip basis. To this may be added multipurpose craft of a somewhat larger size capable of staying at sea for several days. These are fewer in number but are more efficient. Both these elements may exploit the same stock of fish, for example kingfish or Carite, and consequently are potentially in conflict. Other elements include shrimp trawlers, many of which are modified pirogues operated in shallow water and larger ocean growing shrimp trawlers. Still other elements include longliners targeting sailfish and tunas, and farwater long liner freezer boats, generally Taiwanese, ranging the Atlantic. These latter elements actually have little or no influence on the local stocks of out common food species.

There are, however, some serious user conflicts to be found with our nearwater fleet, especially between large shrimp trawlers and artisanal fishermen and between multipurpose boats and artisanal fishermen. Sometimes one group or another is singled out, as in the case of multipurpose boats, it is mostly forgotten that these elements export much of their catches, earning foreign exchange. In the case of the former it is shrimp, n the latter mainly red snapper but also sometimes fresh tuna, all of which are premium species on the international market.

What is rarely voiced is concern over the large number of small shrimp trawlers and large numbers of monofilament gillnets employed by artisanal fishermen. Stock depletion is determined largely by fishing effort, all of which must be taken into account. An added component in the issue is that of the effects of foreign vessels fishing in out waters as well as our fishermen fishing i Venezuelan waters, of stocks which do not recognize international boundaries.

All effective management of wild fish stocks depend to a considerable degree on scientific knowledge of the particular stock. Herein lies one of the major deficiencies for we actually know comparatively little of the population structure and dynamics of most of our commercially important species. Fisheries biologists of the Fisheries Division and at the Institute of Marine Affairs have nevertheless been able to show solid evidence of depletion at least of some species of ground fish such as croaker but there continues to be mixed views on the status of pelagic species such as carite and kingfish. One thing which can be confirmed, however, is that our gill net fishermen continue to use gear which harvests juvenile fish. Another is that in shrimp trawling, whether done by large or artisanal trawlers, there is always bycatch of juvenile and unwanted species. One hundred small artisanal trawlers can do as much damage as ten large trawlers.

Although contributing minimally to our GDP, the fish resources are nevertheless important enough to warrant more active management. We continue to operate what is called an open access fishery in which anybody can do anything at anytime, the only exception being that placed on the twenty or so large shrimp trawlers. This is a prescription for collapse of some of the resources. Draft legislation to replace existing ineffectual legislation has been prepared but where this is in the queue of the legislative programme is uncertain. The essential thing, however, is that the resource must be brought under fairly rigorous management. Given the degree of lawlessness in both Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela, it is going to be a difficult task. Ultimately we will have to shift our efforts from the conflict areas of the Columbus Channel and Soldado to the North Coast and East Coast areas, especially the latter, which are probably capable of higher production. Possibly also, access to the Guyanas for our large deep sea trawlers may yet be negotiated.