PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – The demonstration took place on land and sea simultaneously. In the end, police had arrested three people, including Gary Aboud, president of the Trinidadian Fishermen and Friends of the Sea, but protesters were undaunted. They would be back.
“We are going to re-assemble and go back to the drawing board. The action gave the government a clear indication of how serious we are,” Aboud told IPS. He now faces charges of resisting arrest, obstructing the police and protesting without permission on Nov. 13.
At the center of the dispute are seismic surveys, during which energy companies searching for oil and hydrocarbons in the seabed deploy air guns, which are towed behind ships and release intense impulses of compressed air into the water.
According to the U.S. -based Natural Resources Defense Council, seismic surveys have been shown to cause catch rates of some commercial fish to plummet – in some cases over enormous areas of ocean.
“What we are asking is for is the same thing every country in the world has asked for,” Aboud said, noting that the issue has become controversial enough that the International Maritime Organization and U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization will convene a meeting in London next February to highlight ways of minimizing the impact of seismic surveys.
FFOS also says a government-appointed committee is skewed heavily in favor of people closely affiliated with the energy sector here.
“It only has two fisherfolk representatives and 14 government representatives – that is an imbalance. We are recommending one scientist be appointed by the fisherfolk, one scientist by the government and the two scientists appoint a third scientist,” Aboud said.
“The government has appointed a lot of yes men and people who work for the energy sector. If you work for the energy sector we can’t expect justice,” Aboud told IPS.
Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj, speaking at the end of the weekly cabinet meeting, disputed these assertions.
“Seismic surveys are routinely conducted as part of the exploratory process in an effort to obtain information on the location and the quantum of raw hydrocarbon in the various strata of rocks,” he said.
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Maharaj said that several studies have been done regionally and internationally, and documentation on the effect of seismic surveys on several species of fish can be found in a policy document titled “The National Seismic Operations of Trinidad and Tobago.”
“A draft version developed in July 2010 was circulated to committee members and other major stakeholders for comment. The policy document was also submitted to the Ministry of Energy for its consideration,” he said.
Critics argue that there should be a moratorium on seismic testing while the government creates a regulatory framework that will include making it mandatory for companies to submit an independently-conducted Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) before testing.
“All the oil companies know that the EIA is a standard procedure…so it is not just something we are saying, it is standard procedure around the world,” Aboud said.
He added that a judge in Mexico recently ruled “that you cannot do seismic bombing where the fishes are spawning (and) where there is a migratory path.”
The fisherfolk here have directed their anger mostly at British Petroleum and the state-owned Petroleum Company of Trinidad and Tobago Limited. Aboud said he has already started talks with the trade union movement here.
He also plans to hold talks with religious leaders in the hope they would empathize with what he called the “national plight” of the fishing industry.
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