August 12, 2014
Scholarships not in exchange for fish – PM

The Prime Minister is reassuring the public that Taiwanese vessels are not fishing in Vincentian waters, and that there is no agreement between them and the Government to do so.

Prime Minister Dr Ralph Gonsalves addressed the long-standing issue at a handing over ceremony of Taiwanese scholarships to 13 recipients {{more}}on Friday, August 8 at the National Public Library conference room.

“The 13 of you [are] not getting $2.6 – 3 million worth of education in exchange for fish!” insisted PM Gonsalves. “I just want… to put that to rest.”

The Prime Minister said that he has repeatedly addressed the issue in the past over accusations made by Green Party leader Ivan O’Neal, and is now addressing it once more in the wake of comments made by Central Leeward candidate for the Opposition Ben Exeter.

On Tuesday, July 29, Exeter, while speaking on the New Times radio programme, questioned the motives of the Taiwanese government in making generous donations to St Vincent and the Grenadines. Exeter suggested that the Government was giving away local fishing rights in exchange for “wax apple.”

PM Gonsalves countered this saying: “It is all pure nonsense. It is propaganda… and it is an immense distortion as to what is actually taking place.”

He further explained that when he came to office he did not meet any fishing agreement between SVG and Taiwan, and he himself has not signed any agreement with them since then.

“Taiwan does not and cannot fish in our territorial waters, which is our contiguous zone, which is up to 12 miles; nor our exclusive economic zone, which is up to 200 miles.”

Gonsalves also acknowledged that many Taiwanese fishing vessels are registered in SVG, but that this in itself still does not entitle them to fish in our waters. He did, however, point out that a few years ago, he had to impose a ban on Taiwanese vessels buying small fish from local fishermen to be used as bait.

“It was depleting the stocks,” he explained. “But it was our people selling them the bait.”

Gonsalves also disclosed that when he was first appointed to office, Sir James Mitchell (former leader of the New Democratic Party and former prime minister) warned him of an “impending blacklist” by the international countries that are signatories to the International Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tuna (ICCAT).

He recounted that he had to consult with the Maritime Commissioner in Geneva to resolve the impending threat. Being blacklisted could have adversely affected SVG’s shipping and its shipping registry, which brings in an estimated $5 million in revenue each year.

The ICCAT monitors levels of Atlantic tuna fish, which are prevalent in the high seas, in which all nations are entitled to fish. The ICCAT is charged with regulating the ways in which these nations fish. Taiwanese companies that own the vessels and the Government of SVG are required to submit regular reports of fishing activities to ensure that vessels don’t go over their allocated quotas.

“If they do [go over quota], the people who fish and the Government can face… certain penalties,” said Gonsalves.

Additionally, he pointed out that although SVG does not have a fleet to ensure that Taiwanese vessels are not fishing in our waters, the local Coastguard considers this as part of its duties when roaming SVG’s exclusive economic zone.(JSV)