Government’s Neglect, UNC Steps Up: ‘Our Fishermen and Our Environment’

MP Ravi Ratiram Couva North MP, speaks on his work with the Carli Bay Fishermen Association during the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Paria.

Opposition MP Ravi Ratiram has called on Minister Clarence Rambharat, the Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA), the EMA, and Paria Fuel Trading Company to urgently attend to the issue of the oil spill in the Gulf of Paria, and to ensure the protection of our marine resources and the livelihood of our fishing communities.

Q1: With the recent oil spill in the Gulf of Paria, as the shadow minister on such an important ministry, what struck you the most about this?

MP Ratiram: First of all, the deafening silence from the Government, in particular the Ministers of Energy, Stuart Young and the Minister of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries Clarence Rambharat.

The second thing is that the livelihood of the fishing community now has to endure an additional hardship, given that they have been afflicted and continue to be affected by acts of criminal intent, meaning piracy and arson. The few who are going out, because most of them have done the responsible thing and stayed away from fishing, but this means they would have been unable to provide for their families. For the few who are venturing out, they now have to fish outside of this affected area which is widely affected and this of course means utilising more fuel, more resources etc…so it also comes at an additional cost to them.

Q2. Has there been any feedback from Minister Clarence Rambharat on any of these issues in relation to the aftermath of the oil spill?

MP Ratiram: As stated previously, there has been a deafening silence from Clarence Rambharat, the Minister of Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries for whom those items of responsibility that are outlined, he has. The Minister has provided no guidance and no advice to the community whatsoever. All he did was make some arbitrary comment to pass the buck and ask who was responsible for the oil spills and stated it was not his ministry and that his ministry only provides technical advice on compensation which was in response to the press release I had put out on the issue.

The fishermen themselves have not gotten any word whatsoever from the minister responsible for their wellbeing and livelihood.

The fisheries division of the Ministry of Agriculture possesses a register of all the fisherman and are fully aware of who these people are, yet the Fisheries Division and the Minister have made zero attempts to contact these fishermen and this is the report coming directly from the fishermen themselves.

Q3. You reported on August 10th that no one has reached out to the fishermen. Is this still the case?

MP Ratiram: Let me just clarify, no one from the government has reached out to the fisherman to my knowledge. This is an important and expected part of the company’s Oil Spill Contingency Plan and their Emergency Response Plan. Up to today I have been in communication with the fishermen and no one from the government has been in contact with the fishermen as far as I know.

NGOs and members of the corporate sector have been volunteering to assist and have been showing concern and pulling their weight. They have been taking up the fight of the oil spill but no one from the government has shown any interest in commenting on or in dealing with the issue head on.

As a matter of fact, I will be having a consultation with the Fishing Association representatives of Central Trinidad and the Pirogue Owners Association, all those stakeholders who are affected next Tuesday August 24th at the office of the MP for Couva North to see where we are and how do we move forward.

This is something I would have expected the government to do whether it be Paria Trading or the Emergency Response Team or the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries Division.

Q4. Have there been any reports made available to you outlining the full extent and cause of the spill? 

MP Ratiram: There appears to be a clear disconnect between what is shown on the video captured by Gary Aboud of the Fishermen and Friends of the Seas. The video shows the horrific sight of thick oil deposits and pelicans covered in oil, while the EMA and Paria Fuel Trading Company reported a mere oil sheen in the area.

With respect to reports being made available to the MP on the mitigation of the oil spill, reports will only be made available to us when the reports are put into the public domain.  I say this because this government has been one to treat the opposition as their enemy instead of working hand in hand with our MPs on matters of national importance such as oil spills and the ensuing health hazards that arise out of this as well as the mitigation efforts.

For the past two to three days there have been dead pelicans washing up to the shore covered in oil. Other than what is being reported by the media, which has reached both local and international channels, there have been no official reports coming out from the Ministry of Energy, from Paria Fuel, from the government, from the Ministry of Agriculture, nothing has been put out there.

Q5. What can you say about the health hazards that may be faced by the fishermen or anyone who may consume any seafood from this area?

MP Ratiram: There is a lot of information out there in respect to oil spills and the dangers humans and other wildlife and marine life face, however if contaminants were to spread as far north as Sealots and as far south as Cedros because of the movement of the tides, and also to the shoreline of western Trinidad which includes Carli Bay and Pointe-a-Pierre, if persons consume seafood that are contaminated, the results can be disastrous.

There has been no report or information made public concerning the level of testing that needs to be done.

As such, the level of free radicals and hydrocarbon content in aquatic species right now in the waters are unknown so there is a very real and present threat in term of health hazards coming out of this.

Q6. How would the UNC have handled this if they were in Government?

MP Ratiram: I can only speak from the Fisheries perspective, the first thing we would have done would be to issue a notice to cease and desist fishing until we receive word from the relevant environmental authorities; the EMA and the IMA, that it is safe to go ahead and fish in these waters. The safe and responsible thing to do is to ask the fishermen to stand down and to provide necessary guidance to the community. There is a National Oil Spill Contingency Plan, we would have ensured that this plan would have been activated and followed because the plan follows the international treaties and conventions. This is how the UNC would have handled this from a standpoint of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries.

Q7. Have there been any recent achievements in your role as shadow minister for Agriculture, Lands and Fisheries that you would like to share?

MP Ratiram: It was a privilege to be part of a phenomenal event that took place at the Carli Bay Fishing Facility, that is, the very first training session for fishermen in survival and emergency response measures while plying their trade. The event, which was extremely well attended by the Presidents and members of the Claxton Bay, Orange Valley, Brickfield and Carli Bay Fishing Associations, was the culmination of years of discussions amongst the various stakeholders to come up with recommendations and initiatives to enhance the safety of our fishermen.

The training session carried out by the recently established TTPS Riverine Unit was one such initiative that I hope marks the beginning of a strong and mutually beneficial partnership between the fisherfolk of Central Trinidad and the various arms of our National Security infrastructure.

-Karena Bachan

Vol. 1, Issue 2