Thursday, June 25, 2015

Fish Aggregating Devices in Antigua and Barbuda - a can of worms.

Since 2006/7 I have been fishing on and writing about Fish Aggregating Devices or FADs here in Antigua. What is a FAD? If "fish aggregating device" doesn't explain it well enough, then just imagine a FAD as an artificial reef anchored out or in some instances floating in deep water where a massive food chain is attracted artificially for the purpose of exploitation. I suppose "exploitation" isn't a nice word for some and they would rather hear something else like FADs attract fish so that fishers can catch more fish. That too!

Anyway, at the end of the day a FAD aggregates fish which means it brings together fish that would have normally been spread out across a larger section of open ocean. FAD fishing in our exclusive economic zone (EEZ) has been primarlily done by fishers from the islands of Guadeloupe, La Désirade and from Saint-Barthélemy (St. Barts). In the French islands they call them DCPs. Do a youtube search for "Pêche sur DCP" and have a look at some of the vids. Some of them could very well be in our warters!
We don't know how many of their FADs are in our waters or how many fishers from these islands fish in our exclusive economic zone (EEZ) each week. Suffice to say that the very small number of our local fishers who fish offshore see many foreign FADs and their fishermen each week. Click here for an old blog post about illegal FAD fishing. In many cases the foreign fishers attempt to chase our local fishers away from these FADs. I wrote about that here back in 2011 when it happened to me. I know many local fishers who have been threatened. Some have had their equipment destroyed by these foreign fishers. I remember a boat called MiniBite reported that during an Antigua Sport Fishing Event a Guadeloupe boat deliberately ran over their lines cutting all. This past weekend a friend called Stevie was threatened by foreign fishers when he approached one of their FADs just 20 miles from shore. Fishing on FADs when you know what you are doing, gives you a better chance of catching certain fish like several species of tuna, marlin, mahi mahi, rainbow runner and even wahoo. Conservative estimates suggest that there are hundreds of thousands of pounds of these species being caught by foreign fishers within our EEZ each year. It very well may be over a million pounds a year depending on which local commercial fisher you speak with. I am convinced it's over a million pounds of fish a year. In those islands where fish sells for more than it does here, the dollar amount is probably close to twenty million EC dollars a year. And that number is probably growing while the amount of the same species being caught in the traditional fishing grounds by long time local fishers diminishes every year. After speaking with some of the French fishers about their FADs in our waters they argue that they are permitted to fish where they are because the waters are not Antigua and Barbuda "Territorial Waters". They are correct that most of their FADs are not within our Territorial Waters but they are wrong thinking that they are legal to fish there because they seem not to understand what the Exclusive Economic Zone is. For a good definition of all these things click on this link (especially if you are a fisherman from one of our neighboring islands). 
Most commercial fishers blame FADs for the decline in stocks on the "edge" (continental drop off) and offshore banks (sea mounts) saying that historical migratory routes are being changed by all the offshore FADs which are being set as close as 5 miles off our shelf and as far as 70 miles off shore. Of course, FADs may be being set further but our local fishers are not venturing that far off yet. Recently I visited a FAD anchored in 15,000 feet of water. The amount of rope needed for that would probably be three times that!

"If You Can Beat Them, Then You Join Them!" This has been the attitude of more and more local fishers who have given up on our government's ability to understand or to deal with the problem of foreign FADs within Antigua and Barbuda Exclusive Economic Zone. Some local fishers spend huge amounts of money and time searching for, finding and then fishing on these foreign FADs whenever the owners are not around and some have invested tens of thousands of dollars into building and setting their own FADS. Recently over the past few years the Government of Antigua and Barbuda has received resources from Japan to set FADs of their own. Instead of fixing existing FAD problems within our EEZ, this move by Japan and our government could be creating more problems associated with FADs. As is usually the case with underfunded government departments that are run without effective and well informed leadership (think Ministerial level here), policy and management decisions have made a mess of an already disorganized situation. Why do I say this? Let me explain. A few years ago thanks to the sustained efforts by some of us, new fisheries regulations were passed taking stagnating Fisheries management out of the 1980s. All fishers had to register properly for the first time with the government Fisheries office and get licenses. The commercially licensed fishers all had to provide various contact details and other info including the type of fishing that they were engaged in. I only fished pelagic species of fish and mentioned that I fished FADs. Anyway, many others did the same. Recently when our government got the FAD making bits and pieces from Japan, a small number of fishers were contacted to ask them for help in constructing and setting these FADs. I only know about this because I am friends with several of them. I don't know how many government FADs were set or what was the extent of the Japanese FAD funding received here in Antigua and Barbuda because there seems to be tight secrecy about this funding and the FADs. Only certain fishers were invited to help make the FADS and only certain fishers were given the positions of these Government FADs. When I asked my friends why this was they tell me that it was felt that only people who helped make and set them should be permitted to fish them. When I pointed out that it was strange that only certain Antigua and Barbuda commercially registered fishers (many who are non nationals) were told about the opportunity to help build and set these FADs, I was told that they felt that the people invited were viewed as FAD fishermen by Fisheries.
There have been several meetings at the Government Fisheries base where catering was prepared and discussion on FAD policy took place. Again, only certain Fishers were contacted about these meetings despite Fisheries having contact info for all of the commercially registered fishers who registered as fishing for the species found on FADs.
Since these FADs were set off shore, they have been spotted and fished by other commercial fishers. In fact, one very calm day I found three of them while out looking for mahi mahi south of Antigua. I have been told that certain fishers who helped construct these Japenese sponsored, Antigua and Barbuda owned FADs are furious that other locally licensed fishers are now fishing on them. It appears that the FAD conflict is now not just between foreign fishers and our local fishers but now between local fishers too. This is madness and is caused by poor decision making, policy and planning at the Government level. At the end of the day our nation should be attempting to alleviate the pressure put on our inshore fishery and environments by encouraging fishers to fish off shore for pelagic species which can be fished more sustainably. Fishers displaced by no fishing zones within Marine Protected Areas such as NEMMA and the Cades Reef and Cades Bay Marine Reserve as well as the growing number of inshore fishers who simply can't catch enough to feed themselves, should be educated about pelagic fishing and be encouraged to fish FADs if we are indeed going to be setting them.
But there are many other problems arising. One of the worst problems about FAD fishing is that it is felt that with the huge number of FADs being set in the Atlantic 20 to 70 miles from our shore, the fish are simply not coming to the traditional fishing grounds. I mentioned this but to be specific the area known as South Bank was once teaming with four or five different species of tuna and mahi mahi (dolphin fish). These days you are lucky to see any. The same species are being caught less than ten miles away on FADs. Similar stories from long time fishermen are told all around the island. Recently FADs set by the government close to an area called "The Bubbies" are catching large wahoo. This is unusual for FADs and the many charter fishers that have traditionally fished the area have noticed a dramatic decline in their wahoo catch recently. The small blackfin tuna that congregated around that area have vanished. Blackfin are the main prey of the big pelagic species typically caught on FADs like Blue Marlin, Yellowfin tuna and Albacore. They congregate around FADs in large schools. Sometimes you arrive at a FAD only because you see a massive flock of birds feeding around Blackfin tuna which are tearing up the water while feasting on smaller prey. This was a sight seen at many spots around our twin island's continental shelf until recently. Pelagic species now have an artificial "shelf" made up of a ring of secretly placed FADs right around our islands. The foreign French fishers are making the most of it while we do nothing about it. Instead of using foreign Japanese fisheries grants (given to us in exchange for our whaling/fisheries vote on the international stage) to do something about the monstrous problem of foreign FADs in our waters, our government is building FADs of thier own and setting them between our shelf and the foreign FADs much further offshore. Even if you don't fish, I am sure you can imagine which FADs will be more effective at aggregating mahi mahi, tuna and other species that are migrating through the region. The ones way offshore or the ones closer?
Notice I haven't mentioned any sustainability issues. Greenpeace and other international marine conservation organizations are categorically against FADs mainly because of by-catch issues associated with large scale commercial fishing on FADs. So far we only know of small scale fishing by independent operators, but with total lack of concern, enforcement or management of fishing offshore there is a possibility of large commercial operations fishing FADS within our 200 mile EEZ. These large commercial FAD fishers use nets around FADs to scoop up everything that aggregates there while searching for one or two particular species. The rest is discarded dead as by-catch. Imagine what this would do to our fishery.
Blue species are targeted while the white species are discarded as by-catch.

This Video shows a bit more about Western Pacific Fads and one organization's controversial goal of banning FADs globally. Without thinking much about it I can agree with a ban on net fishing around FADs as clearly it's a bad idea. 

The implications of turning our backs on a problem that exists are very serious for the people of Antigua and Barbuda. We need to be able to feed ourselves in the future. Food security is essential and while history repeats itself over and over the lessons are often ignored. This problem of illegal FAd fishing has decimated fish stocks of many underfunded and under organized third world nations. I have always felt that Japanese aid is horrifically immoral and this latest funding for FADs continues on their policy of throwing money at us without caring about our long term sustainability. They should be using their free cash gifts to fund studies which would help us understand our fisheries strengths, opportunities, weaknesses and threats. It is abundantly clear that they don't care and the sad part is that despite this being clear, we take the money that ultimately hurts us.

Since writing the section above, i have spoken with the Fisheries officer who's in charge of FAD construction and deployment here in Antigua and Barbuda.
I think he was unaware of some of the concerns that many commercial fishers have with FAD fishing. He says that the Japanese funding for FADs is a regional thing and that the reason he only decided to use a small number of fishers with the initial FAD program was that he felt it would be better to get the program started with a smaller group than with a larger one. I pointed out that the process of deciding who to invite clearly was unusual. Some of the fishers were not even nationalized! He agreed with my sentiment that a more inclusive approach was needed and that policy needed to be directed by a larger group than the small group of commercial fishers currently involved in the FAD program. In certain areas FAD fishing is heavily regulated to ensure food security and sustainable fishing. Take for example Hawaii where I am informed that the only FADs that are permitted are government set FADs. There are a finite number of FADs set and these FADs are carefully monitored. Any other FADs set are deemed illegal. A growing number of places don't permit FAD fishing at certain times of the year and some don't permit FAD fishing at all. These nations recognize the danger of FADs if fished without proper management. We here don't have the capability or interest in controlling FAD fishing which has been going on here mostly illegally for a decade already.
The government of Antigua and Barbuda spends very little of its budget on their Fisheries division, and seems to let the small department get steered or influenced by Japanese policy in many respects. The status quo seems to be centered more on catching more, rather than on the often touted concept of "sustainable use". Japan spends millions of dollars on Antigua and Barbuda fisheries so that they get their whaling/fisheries vote sorted out but none of that seems to be spent on figuring out how to fish sustainably. Antigua and Barbuda's fishers on the whole, are poor people who could be doing much better if the resources they targeted were managed more sensibly or in a sustainable manner. Policy and planning are crucial and I think Japan will ultimately benefit from their manipulation of our Government's Fisheries body. Very little proper study is done to see what species can and should be targeted and very little is spent on educating local fishers on sustainable practices. This FAD situation needs to be looked at, not just by Japanese influenced Government technicians or a small self serving group of fishers but by people and groups looking out for the country of Antigua and Barbuda and it's future.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Learning to fly... under water. Not your regular snorkeling experience.

In our family photo albums there are photos of me wearing my mask and snorkel on the beach from back before I was five years old. I've been snorkeling regularly since then and of course that's one of the reasons I started my Adventure Antigua tour company in 1999.
With my cousins Nick and David, I did my PADI scuba Open Water Diver when I was twelve. None of us really enjoyed scuba as much as snorkeling. The incredible carefree freedom of casually slipping over the side of a boat or from a beach with just a mask on had more of an appeal to us growing up than the gear, the seriousness and careful preparation of scuba. We may have just been too lazy or too distracted but snorkeling has always been the main way we've explored the undersea world.
In my twenties I met Pilou a fisherman from Guadeloupe who could snorkel down to depths deeper than 60 feet for what felt like several minutes without much effort. He'd often go deeper. That was the first time I had seen what is commonly called freediving. Freediving, free-diving, or free diving is a form of underwater diving that relies on a diver's ability to hold his or her breath until resurfacing rather than on the use of a breathing apparatus such as scuba gear. (According to Wikipedia) There's much more to it that that though. Have a read of this more expansive explanation from AIDA which speaks more about the side that has intrigued me for twenty years.
Unfortunately freediving without training and whenever doing it alone can be very dangerous and sometimes fatal. It wasn't until one of my closest friends was killed while freediving alone, that I learned about what made it so dangerous and why. We'd been doing "breath up" incorrectly all our lives. Strangely that horrible and tragic loss strengthened my interest in freediving and now years later i finally have taken the plunge and received proper training.
A friend here in Antigua told me about a course he did with Vertical Blue on Long Island, Bahamas. Specifically he suggested I get training with a top international competitor called Jonathan Sunnex who was ranked #3 in world last year. People like Johnny dive using one breath from the surface without scuba tanks using just their fins to depths of over 100 meters (330 feet)!
Luckily he was doing a training camp at Dean's Blue Hole in the Bahamas for ten days at the end of October and they had space for me.
First of all, Long Island reminds me so much of Antigua's sister island, Barbuda with its fantastic beaches and wonderfully clear waters that I never felt out of my element. I felt relaxed immediately and more so when I arrived at Harbour Breeze Villas which is where i stayed for 11 nights. I couldn't have found a more relaxing and ideal spot for this type of training.

Over the next ten days I learned more about my mind and body than I could have dreamed of. We did various yoga and stretching exercises daily, breathing exercise and training, static (not moving) breath hold training, dynamic (swimming) breath hold training, deep free diving training and theoretical class work. It was amazing and I still can't stop thinking about it now, three weeks later. Before going to the Bahamas my personal best (PB) for static breath hold was just under two and a half minutes. We didn't spend too many days focusing on breath hold because after two days of training it was clear that my improvement on static breath holding to over five minutes was enough for the dives we'd focus on. FIVE MINUTES HOLDING MY BREATH!! Yes I was amazed that this was possible in so short a time, but that's what getting trained by the world's best will get you. 

Before going to the Bahamas I could barely freedive down to 60 feet without great effort. Within a few days I was comfortably diving with one breath to over 100 feet below and coming to the surface feeling fresh and with "more in the tank" as Johnny kept on saying. 

The safety and attention to the students was top notch and despite having a minor congestion issue which impeded my equalization below 100 feet I was able to get below 120 feet by the end of the course. 

It was fascinating how using various relaxation techniques and a breathing technique I'd never used before I was able to control my breath holds to safely get to those depths. 

Overall with proper training like this a person can safely snorkel or freedive to depths that may have seemed impossible before. The key is training and the focus is always safety. The number one thing I learned while I was there was that you should never dive alone. 

In January my instructor, Jonathan Sunnex, is making a trip to Antigua and Barbuda to be a guest of Adventure Antigua and to offer a freediving course for 6 lucky people. We will do the training between January 7th & 12th. If you're interested in taking part please email me immediately. There is plenty of interest in this exciting opportunity and I know it will change your life. Eliantigua@gmail. Com is me.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Lionfish hunt 16 November 2014

Hi there. Next Sunday the 16th November, Mamora Bay Divers and Adventure Antigua will be hosting another Lionfish Hunt. As usual teams of up to 6 people will compete to catch the most lionfish. Scuba or snorkel equipment is permitted and pole spears or Hawaiian slings can be used to catch the fish. If you would like to use a spear gun you must have a license from Fisheries but the same license is not required for the slings and pole spears in this particular event. The winning boat with the most fish will win $3000. There will be cash prizes for 2nd and 3rd also. This week we will be looking for more prizes for other categories too. Your teams can fish from boats or from shore. For more info and also to register your team please call Linda at Mamora Bay Divers on +1 268-764-4905.
Aquasports in st John's still has slings available. Fish caught in the event will be served once again outside Skulduggery on the Antigua Yacht Club Marina dock. It's going to be another super fun day on the water and a nice family lime after. Take part and know you're doing good for our reefs. Please share this on Facebook or with your contacts on whatsapp. If you'd like to help in some way please contact Linda. Thanks much. Eli

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Are beaches really important to A&B?

Tourism and specifically coastal beach tourism is responsible for over 60% of Antigua and Barbuda's Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and it often seems that as a nation we are careless or complacent with what the industry relies upon. Wonderful beaches are what has built this economy and are what we as citizens boast about whenever we travel. That being said, our beaches have seen shocking degradation over the past few decades, and it appears to me that they are deteriorating at much more rapid rate than they are being replenished. In fact, that's fairly obvious to anyone who's being paying attention.
As is the case with so many crucially important things in life, "attention" is the thing lacking and unfortunately while beaches are getting smaller and smaller Antigua and Barbuda as a nation isn't taking notice.
I suppose before we can deal with the problem or even before we can identify a problem, we need to understand what a beach is, how it came to be and most importantly, how it is sustained in it's natural environment.
When we speak about beaches, we are speaking about bays, coves or shorelines that have a sandy buffer between the sea and the land. Sand is made up of different materials depending on where in the world you find it. In many areas in North America the sand is made up of silica or silicon dioxide which essentially comes from eroded quartz rock. Here in Antigua and Barbuda and most of the Caribbean the sand has a different makeup. Primarily sand here is made up of eroded or crushed up corals and shells which really are made from calcium carbonate. This is why islands like Barbuda that have more reefs usually have more beaches and islands like Redonda that have no off shore or barrier reefs have no sandy beaches. So if you think about it, there is an essential and direct correlation between a healthy reef system and a healthy beach system. Of course we are speaking about how these things naturally occur. For example, one could build some stone groynes to make a cove over on Redonda and barge in mined sand from Barbuda to fill it with. Presto! You have a nice sandy beach on an island that never had one. That is done around the Caribbean and quite a bit on Long Island (Jumby Bay).
I guess we could spend plenty of time speaking about what healthy reefs look like and to be honest, most people don't remember or have never seen a healthy reef. Reefs in the Caribbean haven't been "healthy" since the late 1980s. Since then scientists have reported unprecedented degradation and die offs. For the purpose of this little article I will quickly and basically explain about how healthy reefs produce sand. A reef is made up of millions and millions of organisms and the main coral structures are made from calcium carbonate. These structures, when alive, are often challenged by different types of algae (a type of moss) that attempt to grow on them. If algae is permitted to grow over the coral stuctures then the life sustaining sunlight is blocked from the coral polyps. Polyps are living organisms which often produce the limestone structures we call corals. They need light to survive and when algae manages to grow over them, they perish. For millions of years polyps have had the upper hand thanks to a symbiotic relationship with herbivore grazers like parrotfish (chub fish), surgeon fish and other marine species including urchins. Those critically important parrotfish feed on the algae keeping the reef alive, but the magic is what happens as a result. When parrotfish chew algae from a section of coral they usually bite of bits of dead coral. Most of the time they ingest it and pass it through their systems as they digest the algae. What comes out is magical "white gold" or sand. Some of the most important poo in the world in fact! That poo as I mentioned contains the sand which is  essentially responsible for about 60% of our GDP. I know that is kinda far fetched for most people who are probably laughing and shaking their heads right now, but do some reading on what parrotfish do. According to scientists, one adult parrotfish can produce 90 kilos of sand a year while keeping the reefs clean from algae. A healthy reef is covered in parrotfish and other algae eating animals which for millions of years not only sustained the reefs but produced millions of tonnes of sand. Take them away from the reef and anyone can deduce what happens next. However, you would have needed to be paying attention to have noticed all these crucially important relationships. We here in Antigua and Barbuda were not paying attention. In fact, the biggest seafood export out of Antigua and Barbuda over the past five years has been parrotfish. It has probably been our biggest export. Thousands of pounds a week of netted parrotfish were brought ashore to be sold both here and shipped abroad to our French neighbors. Pause and think about that for a moment. We rely on healthy beaches which rely on healthy reefs which rely on healthy populations of parrotfish and other herbivore species, but we are wiping the reefs clean of the parrotfish.
I remember being on a radio show with Chief Environmental Officer, Dianne Black Lane a few years ago and she remarking that the most important wild life form we have in our country is the parrotfish and one that needed to be protected more than any other. Sadly, the Environment Division she heads has no more legislative powers than the parrotfish themselves.
Coupled with out of control reef fishing, the reefs have also had to face several incredibly strong hurricanes in the 1990s. Scientists showed that reefs hit by hurricanes within carefully managed marine parks were able to "bounce back" to a point where healthy coral regrowth occurred. Of course, reefs that had poor management and where heavy fishing still took place struggled to stay alive, and in example after example the corals died out completely.
This brings me to another key factor that helps keep beaches healthy. Of course, we've already spoken about how the sand is created and how that process keeps reefs healthy, but by extension, healthy reefs often form an essential barrier or buffer from the Atlantic Ocean's waves and surges. We have seen areas of reef that boats couldn't navigate through because of depth issues become so degraded that they are now safely navigable. Kettle Bottom Shoal on Antigua's north coast is a great example of that. With the reef now deeper than it was back in the 80s we are seeing more surge and more wave action getting to beaches like Dutchmans Bay and Jabbawock. Climate Change effects like rising sea levels are not helping either! With more wave action there is often more erosion on beaches. Unfortunately these beaches are not being sustained with new fresh sand like they have been historically because of the depletion of parrotfish and other herbivore fish.
That isn't the end of the story because as if beaches didn't have enough to worry about, they have their biggest assault on the land side. Beach sand has been used when making concrete for generations and with more and more homes being built from concrete and fewer from wood, it appears to me that there is more and more removal of sand from beaches. There are few beaches in Antigua that are safe from sand mining and those that have easy access from the road are more susceptible to the problem. There is a common misconception that it is perfectly legal to remove a bucket or two from the beach. I am not sure how this terribly damaging concept came about, but many popular beaches have buckets of sand removed daily from them. I started a mobile kitesurfing school on Jabbawock beach in 2001 and we have seen this first hand since then. Thousands and thousands of bucket loads are taken from this beach and the same happens around the island. Often times there is more taken than a bucket or two at a time removed. If you take a slow walk along Jabbawock Beach you will see the trenches and holes where sand is scraped up into containers almost daily. It is beyond me how people think this wont have a negative affect on the beach.... our most important asset.
Yesterday I received calls about a misguided citizen who decided that he would do what he described as a community service down at Jabbawock beach. The beach has been receiving plenty of Atlantic sargasso seaweed recently and as an excavator owner he took it upon himself to ignore the massive sign about nesting sea turtles, about not driving on the beach or removing sand. He had two of his massive excavators go on to the beach and clear the live shoreline vegetation up to twenty meters from the high water mark up and down a 300 meter secton of beach. The scaevola, green button mangrove, sea grape, grasses and other vegetation not only provide crucial nesting cover for critically endangered sea turtles and other coastal marine species including migratory birds, but they also help prevent erosion by holding sand together in their root systems and foliage. In many countries it is illegal to touch coastal vegetation with stiff fines for even walking on sand dune vegetation. Yesterday all of this was destroyed and leveled on the South end of Jabbawock. The excavators operated under the cover of darkness and clumsily cleared small trees and habitat up and down the beach. They stopped in the morning. Several concerned citizens including myself contacted the various authorities in an attempt to make sure the excavators were moved from the beach and that work would be stopped. I was interviewed by Observer Radio about the situation before lunch explaining what was going down and further explaining that the 1980s environmental legislation isn't strong enough to deal with situations like this. The Environmental Management Bill, drafted by government technicians after help from international consultants and consultations with stakeholders, has been finished and has been sitting on various ministers desks for years and years. The government's inaction to get this bill signed into law is indirectly causing huge environmental damage daily on this little twin island state. One can only ponder why they have not gotten in passed into law. Anyway, despite this interview and all the calls to the relevant authorities, the man doing the excavation work called into a local radio talk show to explain himself. According to him he was "cleaning the seaweed" from the shore where he and many other swim. At 2 pm he continued to say he was returning to the beach to do more work. By the time we got back to the beach, he was at it again tearing up wonderfully healthy beach vegetation and leveling the beach by removing the dunes.
How could all of the various government agencies including the police know of the situation and not do anything to stop further destruction. It really showed just how flawed our system is and how little we actually care for the health of our beaches. We here in Antigua and Barbuda seem to have our heads in the sand figuratively while literally the sand vanishes daily. Apart from paying more attention to our most important natural resource, we need the Environmental Managment Bill signed into law immediately before it's just too late.

Eli Fuller
President of Antigua Conservation Society
Managing director of Adenture Antigua

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Fresh cow's milk in Antigua!

For the first time in decades the Hall family at Smith's Estate are producing milk on their farm. Adrian Hall, grandson of the late, Sir Robert Hall Sr has come back from the UK with his family with a renewed passion for farming. With a incredible wealth of knowledge and skills he's slowly breathing new life back into the farm. It's very exciting to hear some of the things he and his family are planning to accomplish on this farm.
These days getting fresh non gmo food is so difficult, and there seems to be more more interest in farmers market produce. We can now add fresh milk to the list. What's even better is that this milk is from 100% grass fed cows and it doesn't get better than that for you.

If you're worried about all the stuff that the big companies put in milk these days then you should try a bottle of pure cow's milk from Adrian. He just milked today and has bottles ready to go.
I've had some and it was good!
Text him on 7203595 for more info.

Monday, August 11, 2014

AT LONG FORGOTTEN SHORES Written by: Nian Blanchard

From one of Adventure Antigua's team who now lives abroad.

Written by: Nian Blanchard

There is a place I long to be; at long forgotten shores

Where seagulls cry from up on high above a vista raw

Moody sea and gentle land in union forever more

before man came and marked his lanes upon their sacred floor

I come at night with moonlight bright to sit and ponder lore

A single soul in search of whole at long forgotten shores

They speak to me in wordless yarn of tales long ignored

Caressing winds humming sweet as waves lap in score

An ochestra of sites and sounds advance and wane before

A single soul in search of whole at long forgotten shores

Lunar streaks illuminate an ocean canvas sprawled

And shine upon the sandy tracks where turtles once explored

To leave behind for future time a generation more

Each a single soul in search of whole at long forgotten shores

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Part 5 on why I can't vote UPP

Just to recap I posted four blogs over the past 36 hours which got a huge amount of interest mainly because people either didn't know or they had forgotten the things I wrote about. Entitled "Where my tax money has gone over the past 10 years." the four parts are as follows:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Part 4

I should have spoken more about The North East Marine Management Area (NEMMA) in part 4. Again a huge missed opportunity, waste of money and more example of a lack of vision and leadership. Our marine park still doesn't have any visible management at all apart from the mooring balls which were set without a plan to use them, manage them or maintain them. The high end patrol boat that they got in the international funding that went along with the project still isn't being used. The entire thing is a mess and a huge disappointment to me especially after I have visited the other Caribbean parks set up with the same international funding. Again, Hilson Baptiste is one of the main looooooosers to blame but it can't rest solely on his shoulders. PM Spencer and the rest of his gang failed with this opportunity. Read more about it on this October 2009 blog. Read more here. 

Sand Mining is another maddening thing that would make me not want to vote for them.  It's not just sand mining on a commercial scale that we see in Barbuda. I mean that's bad enough especially since the UPP boys and girls criticized it for years when the old ALP did it. Of course as soon as they got in they not only kept it going but UPPed production. Quite a few ministers made big money with Barbuda sand. What bothers me as much or more is that so many prized beaches are damaged weekly with mining while the UPP government does nothing. Read here for more about that. I visit beaches that ministers in the UPP government swim at in the afternoons and see them walk right past big holed in the beach where people regularly take buckets of sand. Jabbawock is the worst example of this. You think anything has been done by these guys to protect these beaches, our most valuable assets? NADA and that's another reason they have to go!

Speaking of beaches, sand and by extension reefs. Remember what is happening to parrot fish? The most important fish in our waters has been the one most heavily targeted. While other Caribbean islands take measures to protect this critical reef species and sand producer, the UPP governent has encouraged and facilitated their destruction. While there are few people in Fisheries and the Environment Division who don't agree that the parrotfish needs protection, Fisheries still facilitated the export of thousands of pounds a week of netted parrot fish. Bad leadership! Read more here.
and more here.

It's a waste of time to go on and on, but there are way too many examples of bad decision making and mismanagement of our resources including tax moneys. Ten years was long enough for them to get their stuff together. I am voting against them in the hope that they will go away, think about their failures and come back again as a better party.

Where my tax dollars went over the past ten years. Part 4

In Part 1 and Part 2  I spoke about horrific wastes of tax dollars which have left this country broke despite the UPP government doing the best job in history of collecting revenue. No government in this country has collected as much tax money as they have. Not even close, but we are broke. According to a leading economist, the ALP never collected more than EC $180 million in any year that they were in power while the UPP has collected as much as EC $778 milllion in 2008. In Part 3 I spoke a bit more about colossal wastes of money. Here I will speak more along those lines but more on failures.

I guess I should have included the BAP company failure with the Royal Antiguan Hotel messup. BAP was a company setup by with the help of the government six years ago.
The government put ten acres of beachfront land at Valley Church into this company. The company's shares were split up between a foreign real estate developer who got 70% of the shares and the remaining 30% was kept by the government. The majority shareholder didn't pay a cent for the land. How on earth did this happen? We will never know. They did nothing over the past 6 years and now are trying to sell or be compensated for their shares. Certain people within the UPP hierarchy were completely against this crazy scheme. One of them sent me the documents just now. Our Tourism Minister was sold on the idea. Value for money after 6 years? Remember this foreign entity got 70%
without investing a penny in the land. Corruption, incompetence or something else. You be the judge.


Now for the stuff that really pisses me off. How about sewage?
Anyone remember when Caribarena posted dozens of photos of raw sewage being dumped into the mangroves from the top of Cooks dump? I would show the article but caribarena is down again. Remember our minister responsible for Agriculture, the Environment and Fisheries is Hilson Baptiste. The article sparked a discussion about sewage and what happens to it around the island. It's a very shitty situation and many people were shocked and outraged. Promises were made but what do you think has happened? You guessed it. Nothing. Same shit different day. Meanwhile hundreds of millions in development are being planned and spent for the harbour down current of the crappy situation.

Speaking of nasty stuff floating into the wetlands and ocean. Remeber the garbage in St. Johns? Back in September 2009 I posted this blog showing endless garbage flowing into st johns past a cruise ship which was on the dock there. The Antigua Sun newspaper did a story on it and there was some public dialogue. The problem could have been fixed by using proper grates on the sea end of the gutters and then to have them cleaned occasionally. What do you think happened? That is right. Nothing at all! Minister responsible for Fisheries and Environment got good at solitaire.

Then there was the massive oil leak which is still going on. I blogged about the waste oil issue and once again it got plenty of media attention. Click here to read the blog. 
That was August 23 2010. Again, what do you think happened about it? Nothing of substance at all. What did happen was that I was invited to the Prime Ministers Office to discuss the issue. Not too long after that PM Baldwin Spencer opened the "new" Wadadli Power Plant (Chinese generation plant). In his speech up at Crabbs Peninsular he spoke about building a waste oil recycling plant which would be able to deal with all the waste oil that these new generators would go through. What do you think happened? You got it. NOTHING. Oil is still exactly as it was back on August 23 2010. Again where is the environmental policy of the UPP and the Solitaire player?

Staying with the Environment. Remember how hard we had to fight to get the new Fisheries Regulations? While it takes great skills to be a bad ass solitaire player on your computer screen, people shouldn't be paying the salary of a Minister to do that while years and years go by with legislation sitting unsigned on his desk. This is the same minister who convinced to Cabinet of Antigua and Barbuda to issue executive orders to the Fisheries department and Coast Guard to stop enforcing the law on spear fishing. Whether you agree with that type of fishing or not isn't the point. Baptiste did nothing for fisheries until we the people forced him to. Read more in this little blog post.

What happened to the Environment Management Bill? Another one stalled by Minister Hilson Baptiste and the UPP government. All these years later the Environment Division still has no legislative powers which is why so many environmental atrocities happen here each year. It is a piece of legislation that just won't be signed because it takes power away from the Ministers and puts it in the hands of the people and also with the Environment Division.

More coming as to why I can't support another UPP term coming in Part 5.

Where my tax dollars went over the past ten years. Part 3

In Part 1 and Part 2 I spoke about horrific wastes of tax dollars which have left this country broke despite the UPP government doing the best job in history of collecting revenue. No government in this country has collected as much tax money as they have. Not even close, but we are broke. According to a leading economist, the ALP never collected more than EC $180 million in any year that they were in power while the UPP has collected as much as EC $778 milllion in 2008. Read Part 1 and Part 2 and then keep reading. There is sadly plenty more.

Remember Royal Antiguan Hotel? This little exerpt from Uncut Journal spells it our better than I can: "Take the example of the sale of Royal Antigua hotel, valued at $32M us dollars sold at $18M. The money received from this sale was used to pay one week of payroll. In other words yesterday the people of this country owned a hotel with 300 rooms 50 acres prime beach land with a 250 million dollar debt attached, today the people of this country still owes the debt of 250 million and nothing else. The government of Antigua and Barbuda sold the Royal Antiguan  hotel and used the money received to pay one-week  wages of its public workers". Value for money once again. Leadership matters there for sure.

Then there was and is the huge waste of money with APUA PCS and INET.

During the late 80s and early 90s our nation was lucky enough to have some very bright Antiguan and Barbudan kids away in engineering schools. Some came back with the hope of helping our nation achieve excellence in IT. It was because of their hard work and some forward thinking within APUA and government that APUA was able to start it's own mobile phone company called PCS. Years later they launched home internet with a company called INET. These companies not only worked well but made good profits for APUA. PCS reported profits of up to $10 million EC in one year. It was at that time that the UPP started speaking about selling PCS. They were going to sell the hospital and the port too. That didn't happen. The technical minds of APUA telecoms decided to expand and spend more on newer technologies. Plans were made to launch 3G and then 4G long before any of their competitors. Then certain arms of the UPP government decides to start negotiating with Digicel to help make Digicel a bigger and better network than their own PCS. They stopped listening to the head of their Telecoms department and stopped spending the money PCS was making for them on expanding and upgrading. The UPP negotiated with Digicel to get 4G in exchange for a fraction of what the license was valued at in exchange for moneys and the rest in tablets for school kids. Essentially while one arm of the government was trying to uses its brightest and smartest to better ourselves with our own mobile and internet carrier another arm was helping Digicel get ahead with strange deals that made no sense from a financial point of view. Yesterday in the news we heard that Digicel is getting a contract to put cameras around the city. According to a report on ZDK the sum was EC $8 million which would be piad to them in the form of withheld ABST (sales tax). No bidding on that contract happened. There is plenty more on the relationship with Digicel and the government that could be discussed, but tens of millions have been thrown away as the UPP government have slowly destroyed our own PCS mobile while supporting Digicel. Our brightest technical men and women are no longer leading their destiny.

Speaking of smart Antiguan and Barbudan men and women. The UPP decided to bypass them by contracting a UK firm to build our tourism webiste and online platform for EC $2 Million. This was one of the biggest wastes of money in tourism. No it wasn't. Royal Antiguan was. Anyway, it was a major slap in the face to tax payers and the hundreds of young highly technical IT and online marketing citizens. Remember that under the ALP government Antigua and Barbuda became the leading place on the planet for online gaming. Billions of dollars in online marketing was spent from this little island by companies managed jointly with young Antiguans. We had kids working in every aspect of IT and web design, SEO, new media marketing were all part of our highly skilled workforce. Many of these kids went off to bigger and better things internationally but many are still here. Many were displaced when sports books and online casinos moved outside of Antigua or shut down and some started businesses of their own. The point is, SEO, new media marketing and other aspects of IT are not things we needed to farm out to a company run by a young kid from the UK who came here on a cricket holiday. I don't need to question how he got the job or whether he was experienced enough to do a good job, but I will say that we didn't get value for money with the two contracts for 250K Sterling each. After recent criticism there were some within the UPP that tried to say that the moneys were for a complete marketing campaign, but this isn't true at all. I know what it was for because I met with the Minister responsible and was told over several hours all about it. There was no moneys for print marketing and none that I am aware of for paid adverts online either. This 2 million EC was for setup and training of, the online booking side of the portal and the ministry's facebook page.  It took forever to get finished. In fact so long that they launched it prematurely due to internal pressures. I was amazed at the sheer amount of mistakes in basic web design and navigation. The online booking section didn't work either. During the first week I did many tests. One of them was trying to book a round trip ticket from Toronto to Antigua. The only option I was given by this 2 million dollar website was The Barbuda Express ferry service from Toronto. After spending 14 years of my life studying SEO and new media marketing I could go on an on and on about the shortfalls of the site, but I will say categorically that in my experience we didn't get value for money and I can't figure out how it cost so much money. Several leading hotels asked to be removed from the site. By the way, my company is the only excursion/activity company to go through their over the phone training and set up our account with them to receive online bookings. We have not received a single booking in the nearly 2 years it's been up. Meanwhile bookings from Shoretrips, Shorex, Islandroutes, my websites and others keep pouring in thankfully. Until recently if you did a google search for "Antigua" you couldn't find their site. Now I see they are ranked 7th. is ranked 4th. By the way, the highly experienced online tourism professionals at Antiguanice were not consulted at all or notified that they could bid on the EC $2 million contract. Neither were any other Antiguan companies or individuals. My little website that cost a few hundred dollars to build is ranked 13th.

I could go on an on about moneys being wasted left and right. The tax and spend has been terrible and while some key players have made huge profits, the majority of the people in this country are worse off financially today than they were ten years ago. We should never forget that this government instituted bold new taxes and collected more tax than had ever been collected in history. According to one of Antigua's leading economists Petra Williams: "the ALP never collected more than $180 million dollars in a single year. There have been years under the UPP where they collected as much as $778 million..." With that in mind, did we get value for our money? Did they spend our money wisely?

Part 4 will be more to do with bad decisions and incompetence than direct wastes of money.