Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Eli Fuller's response to quotes made by Hilson Baptiste, Fisheries Minister of Antigua.

Today's Daily Observer newspaper had an article today which covered comments made by Fisheries Minister, Hilson Baptise, where he says a number of extremely confusing things relating to our petition to the Prime Minster.

Essentially, I am the spokesperson for the Antigua Conservation Society and have been interviewed by www.caribarena.com and also by The Daily Observer about a petition to Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer that we have started. The petition asks the PM to take action to get the draft Fisheries Regulations signed. They have been languishing on the desk of the Fisheries Minster's desk for five years. These regulations are attached to a Fisheries Act 2004 which was developed with input from fishers and the various stakeholders prior to it going before this government all those years ago. The reason we are petitioning the PM is that the Fisheries Minister can't seem to get the regulations signed for some reason which we can't quite understand.

There has been calls for these regulations to be signed from the various stakeholders here locally for years and there has also been pressure from international groups as well. Why? Well we are currently using the 1983 Fisheries Act to protect our marine resources and those resources have taken and are currently taking a serious beating. There is pressure on every aspect of our marine resources and there are many fishing methods being used out on the reef by commercial fishermen that are totally unsustainable. Many endangered species are being fished out right before our eyes and despite urgent calls from many stakeholders and the technical people within the Fisheries Ministry including the chief Fisheries Officer, nothing happens. The Act is sitting in limbo. For more on the rules and regulations we are using currently and the ones that are still sitting waiting to be signed click here.

Anyway, our petition to the PM has generated huge interest and has gotten many people speaking about it in the media and beyond. We have about 1800 signatures on our petition and we expect to get the remaining 200 to make up our goal of 2000 within a few days. We will keep it going though until we see some results. In the meantime, we expect to deliver the signatures to the PM after we get our 2000 goal.

In today's paper, the confusing statements that Baptiste made are as follows:

1) He says that the petition is a waste of time.

If this is the case, why is he falling over himself now to say that he is going to have it signed all of a sudden?

2) He says that it couldn't have happened before because he has been traveling for the past two weeks.

Two weeks??? What about the past five years? These regulations have been sitting on his desk for ages. This isn't anything new at all.

3) He says that the criticism over the past few months because not enough was done about the terrible state of the marine resources is "politically motivated" and that we have an agenda.

This couldn't be further from the truth. Nothing I have written over the past month on the lack of action on signing off on the Fisheries Regulations has had any hint of politics. The Antigua Conservation's Facebook page and it's petition on change.org has no political undertones or language at all. We do have an agenda though and that is to get the fisheries regulations signed as they are now.

4) Another thing he says is that he is going to get a committee set up to discuss the regulations to make sure that only the best regulations are approved. He goes on to say that he will only approve the regulations which the committee of stakeholders all agree on and are regulations that they can agree to adhere to. “As I speak to you I am putting a committee together to go over the regulations to ensure that everybody agrees and are willing to comply with it,” he said.

How does any of that make sense? There are huge problems with this because as this document clearly demonstrates (click here) there have been consultations with the stakeholders. In fact, there have been many, and there is no need to step backward and revert to more consultations. It was consultations that ended up helping to get the Fisheries Act of 2004 drafted and then the Fisheries regulations drafted also. A committee filled with stakeholders will only cause the Fisheries Act to get buried if not scrapped. A talk shop is not what is needed at this point! What is needed is for the minister to sign on the dotted line. In addition, why would the Minister consider only the "best regulations" which "everyone agrees with and are willing to comply with.."? This would be like asking the bankers on Wall Street to sit on a committee to decide on what regulations should be imposed upon them and telling them that only laws that they agree with and are willing to comply with will be considered. See why this may be a problem?

An edited version of the newspaper story can be found by clicking here. You have to laugh at the comments. Anyway, as you can see, this issue isn't an easy one and there is good reason that we are petitioning the Prime Minister. Please sign the petition and join the ACS on facebook. If the petition doesn't work, we may have to go to plan B and then C. We will get some changes for sure because the future of our marine resources is sitting in the balance.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Dear Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer, you must take simple action to save our reefs!

netted parrotfish by the thousands taken from the reefs
In the past five days 1400 people have signed a petition to the Prime Minister of Antigua & Barbuda. The petition has been organized by The Antigua Conservation Society and asks for the PM's help in getting the 2004 Fisheries Act signed by the Fisheries Minister who for one reason or another has not done so for years. While the Act sits languishing on his desk, the marine eco systems of Antigua and Barbuda have suffered tremendously. We are still working with legislation from the early 80s. This 2004 Fisheries Act was carefully drawn up after consultations and input with the major stakeholders including but not limited to The Fishermen's Cooperative, The Sports Fishing Association, and The Environmental Awareness Group.
There are way too many areas of our coastal environment that are being neglected simply because there are no laws that can help them. The Chief Fisheries Officer is quoted time and time again as saying that her hands are tied until the regulations are signed. The person who need to sign it told me and others who were meeting him one day when he was Junior Minister of Tourism that he can't swim and has no interest at all going out on the water on any boat. This doesn't mean he isn't capable of understanding the issues here, but I can't help feel that he doesn't. Article after article is published like this one today featured in The Daily Observer: St. John’s Antigua- Having almost ravaged the fishing stock off Antigua, Barbuda-based marine biologist John Mussington says fishermen are now looking to employ their harmful practices on the sister isle. Their primary target: the parrot fish, which Mussington revealed, fishers are going at great lengths to capture. “That particular category of fishermen they cleaned out all the reefs in Antigua.” “The guys, not Antiguans, come and they set their gill nets and camp out on the shores over here. They target the parrot fish alone and there have been reports that they are using bleach to hunt them,” the marine biologist said. According to Mussington, when the foreign fishermen catch fish that is not the parrot fish, they dispose of them on the beaches of Barbuda. The fishermen try their best to avoid local fishers, Mussington told OBSERVER Media, plying their harmful trade when local fishermen have retired for the day. He said several attempts including calling the Coast Guard for assistance have been employed to try to stop the fish invasion off Barbuda. “People in Barbuda have tried to confiscate the nets, but it’s a losing battle. They apparently have official blessings for what they are going.” The problem has persisted for about two years, but Mussington disclosed that efforts to use bad fishing practices off the island have intensified in recent months. “Just yesterday, I received a report from a fisherman who is frustrated over here,” Mussington said adding that several reports have been made to the police. The concerns by the marine biologist comes on the heels of a Fisheries Division study which found that urgent action is needed to save the parrot fish from the gill-netting and spare fishing practices. In response to the anxiety over the local fisheries stock, the Antigua Conservation Association commissioned an online petition to force government to sign off on fisheries regulations that would aid in the protection of the marine eco-systems. Despite articles like these being written, despite desperate calls from The Fishermens Cooperative, which is the biggest association of fishermen, despite calls from all the Environmental Groups, his own Chief Fisheries Officer, and many others, Hilson Babtiste still doesn't sign it. 8000 lbs of parrotfish, almost as many reef snappers and reef groupers are being exported through the Fisheries Department to the French islands. Remember that parrotfish are the key species keeping our reefs healthy by cleaning the coral damaging algae with each fish producing about 180 lbs of sand a year. Healthy parrotfish populations mean healthy reefs and plenty of sand production. Also with healthy reefs there is less wave action and currents getting to our shores and causing beach erosion. More on parrotfish by clicking this link. As you have just read the Daily Observer article, you can see that The Fisheries Ministry knows that the parrotfish are in trouble, but for some reason they still are permitting them to be decimated through the use of huge gill nets which fishermen put along the east coast of our shores just outside the reef. We are at a tipping point, a tipping point that the cod fishermen of the North Atlantic went beyond and destroyed their own industry and way of live. Many species here including parrotfish are in danger of being wiped out due to the lack of fisheries management and stronger regulations. The 2004 Fisheries Act needs to be signed. You can help. You have spent longer reading this blog than it takes to sign the petition. The Prime Minister of our nation will see your signature and will see your comment if you leave one. Please take a moment to sign it, and as important as signing it is sharing it with your email and facebook contacts. There are a few key points which come to mind that make the new fisheries act way better than the old outdated one. The new regulations will change quite a few things which include: Stricter measures for conservation of key species: Lobster – now introduces regulations against removing "tar spot" …something that is now practiced because of EU requirements that lobsters with tar shouldn’t be shipped but for which there is no regulation under the current Fisheries regs. Also introduces closed season for lobster Conch – introduces closed season and stronger penalties for fishermen who harvest undersized conch. Turtles – hawksbills and leatherbacks would be fully protected. Greens may be allowed for capture (if an open season is declared) but with a maximum size limit as opposed to minimum size limit (as per WIDECAST recommendation) Also specifically prohibits harassment of nesting females and take of hatchlings and allows for declaration of protected turtle nesting beaches. Permitting requirements for other species that are not currently managed. e.g. Whelks, cockle and urchins.. Fishers would also need to request permits to harvest certain species. So it is not automatic that once you are a fisher you can harvest anything. It's quite possible that there could be permits for parrotfish (chub fish). Now regulates fishing inland (in ponds and dams). Better controls over gear Nets – the old act only sets regulations on seines…nothing for gill nets. With the new regs there are size restrictions on mesh, prohibition of multi-panel nets and restriction on soak time. The use of any gear not specifically regulated under the Act would need the permission of the CFO. Sets controls for sport fishing The most significant change with the new regulations is that we move to license fishers…not just the boats. And it sets requirements that anyone who wishes to be licensed must undergo some sort of training (to include sessions on conservation). In doing this the regulations also allows for licenses of fishers who break the laws to be suspended from fishing (penalties get progressively higher for repeat offenses). It also allows the Chief Fisheries Officer to refuse a license if there are grounds. New entrants to the fishery would be subject to a probationary period. This will hopefully allow us to catch under the net the people who swim out or use jet skis etc. Other things are: -providing way stiffer penalties for people who break the law as right now the penalties are not worth pursuing in the legal system. -giving the fisheries department more control of fisheries issues instead of having most of the control sitting in the hands of the minister. We have to get this thing signed by the Fisheries Minister as it's the first step on a road to a better marine environment and a better shot at having our fishing industry managed in a sustainable way so that generations of fishers to come may find something to fish for. Please sign the petition to Hon. Baldwin Spencer:

Saturday, June 09, 2012

"You will get your money's worth by booking this excursion!"

1 review
5 of 5 stars Reviewed June 8, 2012 NEW
We visited Antigua as part of a cruise ship itinerary. We booked the Extreme Circumnavigation excursion through Expedia. The boat was just a 3 minute walk from the pier, easy to find based on the directions in the conformation email.

You will get your money's worth by booking this excursion! Our captain was Ross, with Jordain and Trevor our crew. Very nice guys, very knowledgeable, very laid back. The tour was thorough and a beautiful opportunity for pics. It made me want to fly to Antigua and spend my whole vacation there--skip the cruise itinerary!! What a gorgeous place. I expected sting ray city to be crowded with other tours but we were the only group there so everyone had plenty of time with the rays. I was skeptical about lunch but the beach we spent time on was gorgeous and the food was pretty good, and there was plenty of it! Nelson's dockyard was full of history and another great opportunity for pics. Pillars of Hercules were a beautiful site and the snorkeling was top notch.

My only warning is that this is a LONG day and there are no bathroom facilities ladies! We were dead tired by the time we got done so be prepared, they pack in every activity they promise. Bring plenty of sunblock for reapplying.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Some fun photos of our sailing day trip off Antigua yesterday

These Instagram photos were taken yesterday on my phone while we were out on a Classic Yacht Day Tour. The winds were blowing hard and after snorkeling and lunch up in Carlisle Bay we flew downwind outside Cades Reef to Pinchin Bay for some lovely beach time. Enjoy the photos and come out with us one of these days.