Tuesday, April 09, 2013
There have been several very loud people in the media who have been suggesting that I (Eli Fuller) helped create these new regulations to suit my own agenda. This is hilarious for several reasons. First of all, I never attended any of the first consultations which ended up creating the first unsigned draft regulations of 2004. Then when our Minister called for a fresh round of consultations on the Fisheries Act and the draft regulations I did not attend these either. In fact, I have never had any meetings with any minister or any Fisheries officer or any other government representative to discuss anything within the new 2013 Fisheries Regulations. It's a complete mistake for fishermen around Antigua and Barbuda to believe that I have had any input whatsoever on what the regulations are calling for.
That all being said, let me explain what I did do, and how I feel about the new regulations. What I did was complain like so many others that our fishery was being used in a way that was unsustainable. Fish stocks were being depleted and the apparent lack of management had plenty to do with many of the problems that fishers were facing out on the water and back here on land. It was a no brainer that we needed seasons for certain species and last spring when called by the media to comment on the fact that Chinese businessmen were buying all available lobster here and exporting them, I said that we needed new regulations to be signed. In May, I got tired of complaining and hearing complaints about all the issues to do with fishing and decided to do more. I got together with The Antigua Conservation Society and we started an aggressive petition to the PM asking him to intervene. We felt that whatever was in the unsigned draft regulations sitting on the Ministers desk needed to be signed and implemented. After all, it was developed with the input of fishers and their organisations. That's what Eli Fuller did! I called for all of us fishers to be guided by new rules and regulations so that our children and our children's children may be able to fish here in our waters some day in the future. Many said that we should leave it alone. "When it's done, it's done!" is what some said. I didn't think that was right and I am happy that I got involved to push for change.
Now I am being accused of creating fisheries regulations which hurt poor people and help me. Typical coming from men like James Tanny Rose I guess. Tanny (interesting article and comments) is a man who I have never met, but who has always astonished me. I don't know how he is permitted to be a beacon of hate on the call in radio stations. Using ethnic slurs to describe races of people here on the island and derogatory descriptions of others who are not as "picky head" as he says he is because they came from other shores just is disgusting, and the media should be ashamed of themselves in 2013 to permit people like him to get away with it. He filled the airwaves apparently with untruths about the new regulations and how they came about. Anyway, I hope that the next time someone like him starts bashing me on this issue using racist descriptions or not, there will be someone else who has the facts which are simply that I called for new regulations but had no input whatsoever on what are in them.
Clearly I feel that generally it's a good thing that we now have some rules on fishing in place out there on the ocean and here on land. I have not had a chance to read the 2013 fisheries regulations but I have registered as a fishermen. The first thing anyone noticed when they go and register is that being registered with Social Security, Medical Benefits, and the Education Levy department are prerequisites. This is a big shock to many fishers who have fished for years without ever paying into these schemes. Many had no idea that they were required to by law, and some fishers are furious that Fisheries is forcing them to sign. I think that it's a bit much really and obviously this policy is something coming from an another area within the Government. Maybe even the IMF were involved, but I doubt the Minister or the Chef Fisheries Officer had anything to do with that requirement (and neither did I). I guess it may be a good things though to be registered with Medical Benefits if you are a fisherman. It can be a dangerous job out there and having free medical after you register and pay your modest contributions is very beneficial. I am told that every fisherperson must be registered with Fisheries unless you are fishing off the beach or off the rocks.
There are other controversial things in the new regulations, and one which creates the most noise has to do with spear fishing. Up until Feb 1st this year spear fishing in Antigua and Barbuda was only legal if you had a special permit from the Chief fisheries officer and permits were not being given out. Now anyone can get a permit to spear fish legally. What is controversial is that there are limits to how many fish each fisher is permitted to catch. This is something I am hearing about and didn't have any input at all in the regulations other than to publicly say in the past that spear fishing should be legal as long as it's not done in marine protected areas. I don't think it's a bad thing though.
If you spend the time to search for spearfishing vids on youtube you will see many people shooting large fish in deeper waters. There are hardly any vids of people shooting small fish for many reasons but most of all because good spearfishers want to go for big "choice fish" to maximise their productivity. Why take 6 hours to catch 20 lbs of tiny fish when you could spend one hour and catch three fish over 10 lbs? Check the videos for yourself. The problem here is that many fishermen rely on old techniques and would rather shoot fish on the shelf in the very shallow waters. Spearfishing in deep water for large fish would mean them having to re tool and learn new techniques. I know of several spearfishermen here in Antigua that are shooting big fish (without tanks) in deeper waters. Two big fish and they are done!
Although fishermen don't like to admit it, we have a big problem with our inshore fishery and reefs. Over fishing with all the various methods, worst of all netting, has caused this in conjunction with the hurricanes of the 90s. The government Fisheries department have put a limit on the numbers of fish spearfishers can catch in an effort to try and protect the reef ecosystems. I think we will see a huge increase in the number of spearfishers overall and probably an increase in the overall poundage of fish harvested in this method. It's legal now and unemployed people can go out and find some fish for their family. This legalising of spearfishing will help small scale fishers but the commercial spearfishers will need to learn new techniques. Swimming down to 50+ feet to shoot fish isn't as hard as many people would think and larger fish out beyond the reef make the regulated limit plausible.
Another controversial thing is seasons for certain species. These were so controversial that many have been deferred until 2014. Antigua and Barbuda will join all the islands nearby to finally have closed seasons for lobster and conch. Amazing and a positive thing for the environment and for fishers. Giving these highly targeted species some time to reproduce will ultimately give fishers more a more sustainable and stable catch. These regulations were not just pulled out of a hat. Regulations from around the region and much further afield which have worked well for fishers were taken into consideration along with the feedback and input from fishers both here and in Barbuda.
There are many things that I am sure we will find in the regulations which we can debate upon, but the reality is that we needed some rules here and this is a good starting point to help protect the marine environment and the fishing industry for generations to come. After visiting the main Fisheries office in town I can tell you that officers there are ready and willing to help you understand the regs. At the end of the day we are in a much better place than we were 12 months ago.
Saturday, March 16, 2013
Hello Eli, This is John, the AUA student that you met outside the school when you were getting lunch a few days ago. You asked me to post a link about the fundraiser for Carol Harvey and I made one on my website: www.profroofs.com/carol-harvey/ I apologize for the delay, but the beach event is today, Saturday from 12 noon until 6pm or 8 if we can get a bonfire going, we hope. 3 Cylinder will be playing for free, with food, drink and Dj. We asked the general public for 50ec all-inclusive food and drinks. On the website link I also posted a PayPal link where I will collect the money, deposit it into an Antiguan Bank account and write a check to Dr. John's office. I stopped by the office on Friday and spoke with them. Thanks for your help! John
Wednesday, March 06, 2013
As some of you many have heard Glen, the owner of Creole Cruises and Oceano's restaurant was shot during a brazen and heartless robbery. He, his wife and kids were closing up his restaurant a few weeks ago and two masked men opened fire without warning. He and his staff driver sustained gun shot wounds. Thankfully his family were physically unhurt, but Glen's femur was severely damaged when the bullet pieced his thigh. Due to the nature of his injury, Glen and his family have been advised that he should get an operation done in Trinidad.
This costly disaster couldn't have happened at a worse time for them and they need some assistance to help them get to Trinidad and back to Antigua is quick time. As usual Angie and the team from Al Porto in Jolly Harbour (and others) have offered to help. This Sunday Al Porto will be doing a special buffet for EC $50 and $25 from each meal sold will go towards Glen's operation. There will be entertainment thanks to Mackenzie Brown, a donation box and even a "raffle" with prizes among others a special dinner voucher at Sugar Ridge. I'm sending my Adventure Antigua crew down and I hope that you all will consider helping in this little fundraiser. Al Porto, in Jolly Harbour just before the golf course has great food and a great atmosphere. Come down this Sunday to support Glen and his family.
Tuesday, February 19, 2013
There are so many examples of things that are happening in our country which makes you wonder where the patriots have gone. I'd like to touch on one of these examples. Recently on my walks at dawn with my young son I have been astonished by the amount of garbage on the sides of the road. Currently I am renting in Hodges Bay and it truly makes me wonder where these people who throw the garbage come from. They can't be the same proud Antiguans who "were bahn ya" who didn't "bang water" can they? It's a shame to say that the answer is often a resounding YES. Everyday our proud and patriotic people do things to this little island which corrode the very thing that we should be most proud of.
The pristine and beautiful environment which all of our ancestors found here when they first "bang(ed) water" to get here has never taken the beating it's getting at the moment, and we all need to do more as patriots to save our patrimony. I don't think i ever remember seeing as much garbage laying around the place as I do now. Even with regular cleanups the garbage returns daily. Fresh KFC boxes and cups, Guinness bottles, styrofoam food containers are more easy to spot than wildlife down at the beach. Whenever I see people discarding trash I say something. It shouldn't be acceptable to watch people discard garbage on the beach, in the bush or on the side of the road. Yesterday I drove to the government's Hospitality Training Institute at High Point, and realized that I had to write about this issue. I had to say something. Here is a school of young Antiguans and Barbudans who may be the future leaders of our nation, and right outside the school there are piles of garbage up and down the road. Where the students wait for the bus a pile of garbage grows daily. If these future hoteliers ignore the trash sitting at their feet and don't have the interest to do something about it then I am not sure what we can do as a nation. Proud Antiguans have to find a voice and remember what it is that you are proud of. Be brave as well as proud and stand up for what is right otherwise before long your pride may be something as historic as the Arawaks.
Tuesday, January 29, 2013
Many of us will remember the offshore gambling money flowing in Antigua in the late 90s and after the millennium. It was like nothing we had seen since independence. One of my friends who worked for one of the biggest online Casinos here said "everyone was spending like cowboys in a tavern".
In fact, most of my friends were working in that industry during that time. If you knew how to use a computer and happened to be searching for work you were hired and were getting paid way more than your peers were in the hotels.
Four of my close friends started working for a online casino in the mid 90s. They were the only employees working in the converted house in Blue Waters, and within a few years they were writing marketing checks to the tune of millions to companies like MSN and Yahoo. They had moved out of that little house office and were taking up an entire commercial building. They were working with dozens of others and the company was still growing. The island was buzzing and everyone was seeing some of the pie. The trickle down was more of a waterfall than a trickle. I remember attending one of the offshore sports betting companies new years party which they allegedly spent EC $100,000 on. None of us will ever know how much money was passing though Antigua's banks, but we were the biggest players in a multi-billion dollar industry. There were regular twenty five year olds making way more money than both of their parents were combined, and many of them never imagined it would end. You know what they say about all good things though.
Things really took a turn when Jay Cohen, the founder of one of our biggest sports books, was arrested as he arrived in the USA in July 2004. He felt that the USA had no right to be preventing people in the USA from betting offshore in Antigua. The US had recently used The Wire Act to stop US citizens from placing bets abroad over phone or internet. He was the first person to be charged by the USA for violating the Federal Wire Act. The US did many other things in an effort to stop their citizens from betting off shore including going after the credit card companies and other payment providers. It became extremely difficult to do business, and many casinos and sports books either folded or pulled out of Antigua. The economic trickle down really became a trickle, and in 2003 Antigua and Barbuda took on the USA at the World Trade Organization saying that US policy on online gambling violated WTO rules. In a David vs Goliath ruling, the WTO agreed with Antigua thus beginning a decade of negotiations and arbitration. In 2007 the WTO essentially gave Antigua the right to sell US copyrighted material to the tune of about US $20 million dollars a year in a twisted form of sanctions. It was a fraction of what Antigua and Barbuda was looking for, and it was an extremely controversial judgement which wasn't going to be a quick fix. Either way, Antigua would more than likely be getting the dirty end of the stick. It makes me think about all those WTO protests to be honest.
Anyway, Jay Cohen seemed optimistic when I spoke to him about it. He had done his jail time and was back in Antigua taking a back seat to it all but following the discussion nonetheless. A few years ago he told me that he felt that the minute Antigua started selling US copyrighted material, companies like Microsoft would be lobbying for a change in offshore gaming policy. He felt that offshore gambling's biggest allies would be the American companies who were having their material legally sold (pirated) by Antigua. Antigua and Barbuda didn't jump at the green light to be modern day privateers and instead continued to negotiate hoping that the USA would relax their stance. Nothing changed and on Monday Antigua applied to the WTO to start imposing the recommended sanctions. The World Trade Organization agreed, and Antigua has said that it would be reasonable and responsible in the way that it sells US intellectual property.
Like most people I am eager to find out which property is going to be reasonably sold without the owner of the property getting paid. You can imagine how unreasonable the property owner will think it is.
This weekend I spoke with one of Antigua's most respected music producers about the WTO judgement. Torsten Stenzel is a German award winning musician, songwriter, composer and producer who now resides and runs his internationally famous studio here in Antigua. Apart from local and regional artists like Jah Cure, Buju Banton, Drastic, Jus Bus, Tian Winter, Claudette Peters, Logiq, Kenni Blessin, Itchy Feet, Asha, Shya and Promise, Torsten has worked with huge international acts and his list of associates and collaborators is huge. Since 2007 he has attracted many music industry icons here to Antigua to work in his studio and while his Antiguan company is getting stronger and stronger he is worried that all of his work will be jeopardized by what our government does next.
Torsten says, "Selling music and movies without paying the musicians and artists is unfair and will cause worldwide problems and not just problems with the US. Since illegal downloading went through the roof, the music industry is having a hard time, and artists get little or no revenue from selling music. Some talents live like homeless people yet have a million views on their youtube music video. People always think the pop stars are rich but the ones who are making money are way less than 1%. Government needs to protect their creative people and not just sell them out with no pay."
I reminded him that this would only apply to US copyrighted material and that Antigua has been backed into a corner by the USA. Tosten disagrees. "I think that once a torrent site is up and running it will be difficult to make sure that only US copyrighted material is being sold. Before you know it there will be every kind of music from all over the world being sold on it. I agree that the US has no right to destroy the local online gambling industry, but if you legalize downloading copyrighted material you are hurting the artists that have nothing to do with the problem and not hurting the US government. It is the wrong signal and will effect people who have nothing to do with the original problem. I have had big industry names calling me recently asking me about what the BBC is saying about Antigua setting up a pirate site. I don't want this! In March we fly in Sony Music executives from Japan, and the news that Antigua supports music piracy isn't going to be positive for our relationship and future music business coming to Antigua from Japan."
I put it to Torsten that it may be foreseeable that the music industry would end up being indirect allies in Washington and that artists could possibly join with Antigua in the call for a change on US gambling policy. Torsten didn't seem as optimistic as Jay Cohen though, and for a moment I had a vision of Madonna, Beyonce and Bruce Springsteen doing a TV commercial calling for a boycott of Antigua as a tourism destination until they stopped stealing their music. Who knows what will happen when the downloads start. The USA has made it clear that they would consider any dowloads to be theft and piracy. IT's something to think about and there can be no doubt the this story is long from being finished.
Saturday, January 19, 2013
Thursday, January 10, 2013
Hilson Baptiste, Minister of Agriculture and responsible (astonishingly) for The Environment Division and Fisheries was in parliament bad talking me trying to suggest that because my dad, the lawyer, represents illegal French fishermen, I'm a hypocrite for calling on better environmental protection and trying to get the Fisheries regulations signed. In addition, he tried to make it sound like he's the one who has been pushing for the regulations to be passed. The reality is that we, the people, forced him to sign this thing and despite him doing everything he could to bury it, the regulations are starting him in the face once again and he must sign them. For years the finished regulations languished on his desk while he gazed into his solitaire playing computer doing nothing to help our severely depleted fishery. Year after year they remained unsigned despite all the work from the Fisheries Department and consultations with stakeholders that went into getting them to that stage. Each time someone asked him for a reason why he wasn't signing them he gave some lame excuse or the other. The Chief Fisheries officer was quoted time and time again as saying that her hands were tied on fisheries issues until the regulations were signed by the Minister. The Environmental Awarenss Group, The Fishermens Cooperative, The Sport Fishing Association, Fisheries, the press, and many individuals like myself asked for him to sign them and he ignored us all. The regulations did two things that frightened him. The first is that they actually gave slightly more control to the highly educated, knowledgeable people who have spent their careers day in and day out running the Fisheries Division. These people who know better than any other civil servant what is going on out on the water have had no say on what goes on out there up until now. The Minister who once told me after I invited him to come and see some of our reefs for himself: "Me cant swim so what the hell am I going to do out on a boat..." is the one who makes the key decisions in the Fisheries Department. Decisions that often are polar opposite to what his own officers have recommended. Take for example the Cabinet decision which called for Fisheries officers and other authorities to stop enforcing the laws which pertain to spear fishing. It is illegal to spear fish in Antigua without a permit from the Chief Fisheries Officer. Brother B went to Cabinet and lied to his Cabinet members telling them that his officers said that people should be permitted to spear fish. This information came to me from fisheries officers and from one of the Ministers who was in Cabinet. Imagine a Minister convincing other Cabinet Members to issue an order which would see that officers charged with upholding the law permit these laws to be broken.
The second reason that he hadn't signed the regulations which he himself has been quoted as saying is that he didn't want anyone telling him to sign anything. He wasn't going to be pushed to do anything. It's something these elected officials seem to forget time and time again.. We elected you and you work for us!!!
In March or 2012 when the general public was up in arms about the huge investment being made by Chinese businessmen to target lobster in our waters, I started an education campaign which attempted to show just how broken our fisheries policy and current regulations were. IT wasn't the fault of Chinese, or of Dominicans, or of French fishers. It was the fault of the Minister responsible for Fisheries who permitted a free for all type of policy to carry on. It was and still is the wild west out there and lawlessness prevails. Once again calls were made to sign the completed fisheries regulations. Together with my fellow board members of The Antigua Conservation Society, we started a online petition to the PM. It was clear that Brother B would never sign the regulations unless something drastic was done. Thousands signed it and the press loved the idea that people were so interested in seeing the regulations signed. Brother B knew the tide was turning, and to find a way out of the hole he had dug himself into he decided to start from scratch with the regulations. Defering a decision was as good as not making a decision. New regulations would be drafted. This would delay the process and I think he hoped fishers would water down the regs, but after months of working on it the opposite came to be true. Consultations provided stronger regulations. Fishers were tired of the status quoe. They were tired of catching less and going further to do so. The press and general public was all over the issue.
Everyone has been watching and he's now got to sign it. The Fisheries department sent the redrafted regs to the ministry of legal affairs has FINALLY (after nearly three months) said they are good to go. Sooooo to save face after being found on the wrong side of public opinion on this issue, brother b is now suggesting in parliament that he's the champion of the fisheries regulations. He is the savior of the reefs and the fishery. In parliament this week he declared that I made people sign a document "against him" and that he's the one who got the regulations to where they are. He bad talked me saying that I am only and environmentalist when it suits me and all sorts of other things aimed at personally tarnishing my reputation. I don't care what this big mouth grouper thinks of me. I have one thing to say to him as he flips and flops on the slimy deck..... which is what I have been saying from the start....: JUST SIGN THE BLASTED THING ALREADY!