By Steven Jackson
Industrial and artisan fishers, vexed by poaching in the island's waters, have formed the Jamaica Lobster Harvesters' Association (JALHA).
The association aims to address poaching, expand fish sanctuaries, provide training and financing.
The poachers, allegedly from Honduras, Nicaragua and Colombia, are equipped with large vessels and scores of divers. The result is that the poachers reap more than the local industry, states vice-chairman Albert Williams in a phone interview with the Jamaica Observer on Friday.
"It's known that these vessels carry 100 divers and are out there for two and three weeks. A diver will pull up 10 pounds each dive and they work day and night," said Williams. "No vessel from Jamaica can do in one season the quantities that these poachers do in two weeks."
The JALHA wants the Government to issue permits to coincide with the start of the season on July 1. Permits are usually issued about a month after the season starts, which allows poachers easy access to reap the best and fittest lobsters. The season runs for nine months.
"We would like the licence issued earlier for the first week in July," stated Williams. "If we get out there earlier, then our presence would deter the poachers."
The association, made up of nine industrial or large fishers and a number of smaller or artisan fishers, will also seek to get data on the size of the industry.
Sean Taylor, chairman of the JALHA, argued that the new association would better address the needs of large and small fisherfolk alike. Taylor also chairs the Jamaica Fishermen Co-operative Union Ltd (JFCU).
"JFCU lobbies mainly on behalf of artisan fishers, while JALHA will combine industrial and artisan fishers," Taylor stated. "The more voices you have, the stronger it becomes to make a better case to Government."
In addition to the use of drones to help the Government combat the nagging issue of poaching, the association hopes to develop public/private initiatives to expand fish sanctuaries along the island's coastal areas.
The JLHA also wants to help encourage artisan fishermen to use traps instead of diving, as the latter "is a very detrimental way to harvest", the association said.
In fact, the group believes that fishing should be regulated to the use of traps only because, "a well regulated trap fishery is a healthy fishery, as it will save what we have today for a better tomorrow".
"Ideally, the whole idea is for the partnership between the Fishermen Co-op and the Jamaica Lobster Harvesting Association is to work closely with the Government on policy driven by data and which will improve the industry's sustainability and development, and develop export markets.