Fund­ing bind threat­ens Ora­cabessa fish sanc­tu­ary

Jamaica Gleaner - - NEWS - Paul Clarke/Gleaner Writer paul.clarke@glean­erjm.com

ALACK of gov­ern­ment fund­ing for the Ora­cabessa Bay Fish Sanc­tu­ary is threat­en­ing 10 years of gains in re­plen­ish­ing stock and could deal a mas­sive blow to the lo­cal fish­ing in­dus­try.

That is the damn­ing con­clu­sion drawn by a board mem­ber of the Ora­cabessa Ma­rine Trust, Inilek Wil­mott.

“This is a huge mat­ter for ev­ery­one con­cerned be­cause there is a di­rect link be­tween the fish nurs­ery and sanc­tu­ary, the fish­er­folk, their fam­i­lies, and the su­per­mar­ket and gro­cery shop in each com­mu­nity,” Wil­mott told The Gleaner on Tues­day.

A cess that was placed on the ex­port of conch was pooled into a fund to as­sist lo­cal fish sanc­tu­ar­ies such as the one in Ora­cabessa, St Mary.

But the night­mar­ish sce­nario of conch over­fish­ing has re­sulted in the in­dus­try being closed since last year, shut­ting off cash flow to fish sanc­tu­ar­ies.

“We had sub­mit­ted our bud­get from last year and sub­se­quently, the Gov­ern­ment had in­formed us that no money is avail­able for fund­ing of the sanc­tu­ary this year,” said Wil­mott.

Although the sanc­tu­ary is a ben­e­fi­ciary of non-gov­ern­men­tal donor fund­ing for equip­ment, out­reach projects, ed­u­ca­tional cam­paigns, and train­ing, but its fi­nanc­ing is de­rived pri­mar­ily from state cof­fers, Wil­mott said.

The Gov­ern­ment pro­vides about $5 mil­lion per year to­wards the Ora­cabessa sanc­tu­ary ex­pen­di­ture.

“That is the gap we will be faced with this year. We have to look at how to come up with some in­ge­nious fund­ing mech­a­nisms to off­set what will be lost as a re­sult of the Gov­ern­ment’s re­luc­tance or in­abil­ity to fund us fur­ther,” Wil­mott said.

There are in­di­ca­tions that the Gov­ern­ment has not ab­so­lutely closed the door to the prospect of fund­ing, but bud­getary con­cerns linked to the re­ces­sion-hit Ja­maican econ­omy will lessen the like­li­hood of the spigot being opened.

Job losses and plung­ing for­tunes in com­merce have led to pro­jec­tions that the Ja­maican econ­omy might con­tract by up to 14 per cent in the June quar­ter and six per cent in fis­cal year 2020-2021.

VI­TAL TO LIVELI­HOOD

“All we do here is de­pen­dent on the fund­ing from the Gov­ern­ment. The fish sanc­tu­ary is re­ally a nurs­ery, and as fish­er­folk, it is vi­tal to our liveli­hood,” added Wil­mott.

The Ma­rine Trust board mem­ber said that the Fish­eries Di­vi­sion had made a sub­mis­sion to Par­lia­ment at the end of April, which is being re­viewed.

“The Ora­cabessa Bay Fish Sanc­tu­ary is cel­e­brat­ing 10 years since its es­tab­lish­ment and has been cred­ited with an ex­po­nen­tial rise in fish stock by an es­ti­mated 10,000 per cent.

“In 2011, we were among the worse reefs in Ja­maica be­cause NEPA would go around an­nu­ally to as­sess reefs,” said fish­ing war­den Hugh Fan­nell, re­fer­ring to the Na­tional En­vi­ron­ment and Plan­ning Agency, Ja­maica’s chief en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tor.

“This year, the three top reefs sur­veyed by NEPA can be found in­side our sanc­tu­ary.”

The sanc­tu­ary was started through a part­ner­ship with the Ora­cabessa Foun­da­tion and the Fishers As­so­ci­a­tion. At the out­set, war­dens were us­ing their own boats to pa­trol the sanc­tu­ary. That ex­am­ple, said Wil­mott, is ev­i­dence of how in­vested com­mu­nity folk were in guard­ing the en­vi­ron­ment and fish­ing econ­omy.

Se­nior lec­turer in zo­ol­ogy at the Univer­sity of the West Indies, Mona, Dr Karl Aiken, agrees that op­er­a­tions at the fish sanc­tu­ar­ies will be ham­pered by the loss of fund­ing.

He noted, how­ever, that among other things, the un­der-re­port­ing of catches se­ri­ously im­pacted the conch sec­tor and that sci­en­tific anal­y­sis in 2018 in­di­cated that only a full-scale shut­down of that sec­tor in the short term could save the mul­ti­mil­lion-dol­lar in­dus­try.

“There were cer­tain ac­tiv­i­ties that were in con­tra­ven­tion of sus­tain­able fish­ing, and one of them was the un­der­re­port­ing of catches com­pli­cated by for­eign poach­ing,” Aiken said.

“At the mo­ment, we don’t have any com­pa­ra­ble cess or ex­port tax on lob­sters and spiny lob­sters. We have been think­ing about in­tro­duc­ing a mini cess on the ex­port of spiny lob­sters, but it is tak­ing a long time.”

KENYON HEMANS/PHO­TOG­RA­PHER

Tar­pon swim around off the coast of Ora­cabessa Bay, St Mary, on Tues­day. Ten years of gains at the Ora­cabessa Bay Fish Sanc­tu­ary in St Mary are in dan­ger be­cause of a lack of state fund­ing.

PHO­TOG­RA­PHER KENYON HEMANS/

Ran­dal Scott, an em­ployee at the Ora­cabessa Bay Fish Sanc­tu­ary, makes re­pairs to a fish pot on Tues­day in prepa­ra­tion to head out to sea on Wed­nes­day.

Inilek Wil­mott, board mem­ber of the Ora­cabessa Ma­rine Trust, says the fish sanc­tu­ary has been key to the re­plen­ish­ment of stock.

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