January 3, 2017

Fishing trawler operators, local fishermen at loggerheads in Bayelsa

Fishing trawler operators, local fishermen at loggerheads in Bayelsa

Fishing is our pride as a people

By Samuel Oyadongha
YENAGOA—FISHERMEN in coastal communities of Brass and Southern Ijaw Local Governments Areas, Bayelsa State, have cried out over the unwholesome activities of fishing trawler operators, who they accused of damaging their fishing gears, attacking local anglers and violating maritime laws.

It was gathered that the fishing trawlers supposed to be on the high sea, about five nautical miles away, come very close to the shore where local fisher men/women operate, and in the process, yank away the fishing nets, hooks and other tools.

The fishermen from Twon Brass, Odioama, Sangana, Ezetu, Ekeni, Koluama and Foropah in a Save Our Soul, SOS, lamented that they were gradually being pushed out of business by trawler operators from within and outside the country.

Security  agencies

Fishing is our pride as a people

They called on the security agencies, state and federal governments to rescue them by prevailing on the owners of the big fishing trawlers to abide by the maritime laws and desist from operating close to the shoreline and destroying their fishing gears.

NDV learned that the fishermen had lodged similar complaint with the Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth (ERA/FoEN). A fisherman Odioama, James Sampson, while confirming the sad development in the coastal enclaves, told NDV that many of his colleagues have been forced to stay away from the sea because of the unrestrained behaviour of the trawler operators.

“As you are aware, fishing is our means of livelihood, but the excesses of the trawler operators have forced many of our people out of business. The trawler operators have continued to violate the existing laws, which prevent them from operating close to the shoreline and in the process, destroying our fishing gears as well as loss of lives.

“The presence of trawlers in our environment has been a source of concern to us. Fishing is our occupation and our existence revolves around it. We are therefore calling on the state and federal government to come to our aid by prevailing on the trawler operators to respect the law of the country, which prevent them from coming close to the shoreline,” he said.

Also lamenting the plight of the local fishermen, the Community Development Committee, CDC, Chairman of Sangana community, Akassa axis of Brass council area, Benjamin Ayibatonye, said:   “Our people are really suffering from these trawler operators. They come beyond where they are not expected to be seen fishing.

“ In times past, we use to see them only when we proceed deeper into the sea, but these days, they come into areas they were never seen before, as if the kind of fish they are looking for are now closer to the coastline. Each time they come, they destroy people’s nets. Not just fishing nets, sometimes our fish men are close by and would protest, sometimes at night too.

“Immediately our fisher men, who are the victims shout or point them torchlight (if at night) those in the trawler would begin to shoot at them. Sometimes, when our fishermen notice that their nets are in danger, they will put on their engine and try to move closer to the trawler as a way of drawing the attention of the trawler captain to avoid their nets. The moment the trawler operators sees this movement, they will shoot at our people.

His words: “We need help from the government, whether it is the state or federal government, the authorities should step in and prevail on the trawler owners and operators to go back to where the law permits them to operate and not come to the coast and give us problems. Fishing is our major occupation and if government cannot protect local fishermen from companies coming to our territory to fish with trawlers, how do we feed?

“Government should tell the trawler operators to limit their operations to legitimate area, which we used to know so that the local fishermen can also manage to survive, while trawler operators also go about their commercial fishing without any trouble,” he said.

CDC chairman of Odioma community, Philemon Kelly Dickson, who also confirmed the impunity of trawler operators, said: “I am worried about the activities of the trawler operators on the Saint Nicholas river and Santa Babara river; the section between these two rivers wherein Odioama community and its fishing satellite settlements fall within.

“Ours are predominantly fishing communities, but recently, we have observed that trawler operators have become a menace to our fishing activities. So, we are not happy, we are worried. The activities of the trawler operators are lawless and they have never showed us that they are a law-abiding people going about their economic activities.

“They come to low, close to shore. They ought to be up there on the high sea; outside five nautical miles, away from the sea shore, rather, they come very close to the shore, to the area where local fisher men/women use to operate. And by so doing, since they are trawlers; they yank away the fishing gears of the locals, our people. They drag away the fishing nets of several bundles, they also haul away the hooks and other fishing implements of our people. So, this is really, really very tough for our people at this particular period.”

He added: “Not only that, they come with security operatives in their vessels. Any attempt by victims going close to them to complain is rebuffed with intimidation; they threaten our people with guns. They fire shots and frighten victims away. Our people are denied even the right to complain when their fishing gears, their property are damaged by these trawler operators. And, we do not even know where they are coming from.

“We hear some are coming from Lagos and other faraway places. So, we cannot even approach those who damage our property and seek remedy; we are denied the rights to do that. We are not stopping them from going about their activities on the high sea; the thing is: they should be law abiding. They should completely stay far away from the shoreline; they should go into the high seas and operate there.

“Nobody will interrupt their fishing operations there. But when they come close to the shoreline where the local fishermen operate, they deny the locals of the legitimate economic activities, which are unlawful and unacceptable by our people. That is why we want to bring this dastardly act to the notice of the authorities with a view reducing it to the barest minimum.”

In his submission, the Bayelsa Head of Environmental Rights Action/Friends of the Earth (ERA/FoEN) Alagoa Morris, whose organization has been monitoring the activities of the trawlers, called on the authorities, both in Bayelsa and Abuja, not to be silent to the immoderation of the operators to prevent the problem from escalating, as well as save the economy of the communities, especially at a time of economic recession.