Prime Ministers Freundel Stuart and Dr Ralph Gonsalves issued the stern warning this afternoon after signing an agreement at Government Headquarters on Bay Street that establishes the limits of their maritime boundaries.
The two leaders discussed the practice of illegal fishing in neighbouring countries’ waters. However, the trading in smuggled goods by fishermen was a matter of greater concern.
“We need to find a solution to this problem [of illegal fishing]. Of course, Prime Minister Gonsalves made the point that our fishermen have had no problems with St Vincent and the Grenadines and his businessmen [trading in] illegal agricultural products have not had major problems with Barbados until they get here,” Prime Minister Stuart said.
Stuart and Dr Gonsalves agreed that there were other “practical options” which could be adopted before arresting and charging their neighbour’s fishermen caught fishing illegally in the territorial waters of the two states.
Referring to certain ground rules followed by Kingstown, Dr Gonsalves said that before his Coast Guard reported contraventions to the Director of Public Prosecutions for legal action against fishermen, the matter was first referred to the Chief Fisheries Officer and the Attorney General.
“Because if you inform the Chief Fisheries Officer and the Office of the Attorney General, then it is possible for considerations other than the strict law. Once it gets into the hands of the Director of Public Prosecutions . . .the matter is out of your hands,” the Vincentian leader contended.
Gonsalves explained that first-time offenders might have part of their catch confiscated, but if the rules were repeatedly breached, the fisherman’s tackle and the entire catch would be seized.
However the Prime Minister gave the assurance that his security officials would not confiscate any Caribbean fisherman’s boat since this would hurt the person’s livelihood.
“But if it is a vessel which comes from somewhere else outside of the CARICOM region that is a different story. We apply different kinds of considerations,” he added.
Meanwhile, Stuart said he had noted a recent recommendation by Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Food, Fisheries and Water Resource Management Esworth Reid for an open sea resources regime to allow regional fishermen to follow the fish wherever they went. The Barbadian leader said the recommendation would be examined as an option that went beyond a mere protocol.
“It is certainly something that we need to look at, because of course we need to find a solution to this problem . . . how we use the Caribbean Sea is very important to the survival and future of these islands in the CARICOM region,” Stuart emphasized.
Just after signing the agreement, Prime Minister Stuart described it as a truly historic moment which demonstrated an important milestone in deepening and improving relations between both nations.
Dr Gonsalves noted that while the agreement established the limits of each others maritime boundaries, St Vincent and Barbados did not care where their exclusive economic zones began or ended, they just wanted to “catch people at sea.”