Fishermen to meet with Antigua PM over dispute
St. John’s — When a group of 30 fishermen converged on the Ministry of Agriculture yesterday, calling for a halt to officer “harassment” – they left with a promised meeting with the minister and prime minister.
Fisherman’s Cooperative board member, Frederick Dunnah, said the arrest of 41-year-old, Shane Bachelor – for spearfishing and fishing in a marine reserve Monday – was the “last straw” in what he called an “on going” string of incidents between Defence Force Coast Guard and the Fisheries Department personnel.
Yesterday’s meeting culminated with Minister Hilson Baptiste scheduling an audience between the fishermen and Prime Minister Baldwin Spencer, to be held at the prime minister’s office tomorrow at 9 a.m.
“We want an audience with the Prime Minister and Mr Baptiste. We need this problem to be solved urgent. We cannot continue to take this harassment,” Dunnah said.
Although spearfishing has been linked to damage suffered by the delicate coral reefs and certain species of fish, Dunnah said, “This is our livelihood. We have our rights and our rights are being messed with.”
While the fishermen note that stopping them from spearfishing, near the island’s reefs, is impeding their livelihood, authorities said spearfishing is against the law, as outlined in section 25 of the Antigua & Barbuda Fisheries Regulations of 1990.
The regulation, which has been in existence for 23 years, prohibits fishermen from using “a spear gun for fishing” in the nation’s waters, without first obtaining the written permission of the chief fisheries officer for the use of the gear.
Bachelor – who was also a part of the group that met with Baptiste – said although he is in contravention of the 1990 regulation, he continues to fish because, according to him, Chief Fisheries Officer Cheryl Jeffrey Appleton will not issue spearfishing permits, saying: “Ms Jeffrey (Appleton) is not issuing any permits for years now.”
“Sometimes we have to supply certain supermarkets and restaurants with fish and they can’t get the fish, because Coast Guard take the fish and Ms Jeffrey (Appleton) take the fish and nobody knows what they are doing with it,” Bachelor declared.
When contacted for a response, Appleton declined to comment. (Antigua Observer)