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.