By Momodou Jarju
James Gomez, the Minister of Fisheries, Water Resources and National Assembly Matters, has described claims that some fishing vessels were fishing in the creeks of the country as untrue stories orchestrated by social media in particular.
“Following the publication of this claims, the ministry sent staff of the fisheries department to go and verify the claim only to find out that the claims were not true,” Gomez informed the lawmakers in Banjul recently.
The Minister was responding to a question raised by Banjul North lawmaker, Ousman Sillah, inquiring whether his ministry is aware of claims that certain fishing vessels sometimes enter the country’s creeks to cast their nets to catch any type, volume and size of fish that comes their way.
Sillah further asked the minister to shed light on what the ministry was doing to completely halt the practice if his response was in the positive.
Minister Gomez informed lawmakers that they know the importance of the creek, mangroves, environment and the generation of fish stock and as such, they will not relent in protecting the fragile environment of the country.
“Furthermore, industrial fishing is regulated. And fishing vessels or trawlers are not allowed to fish in the area shores because that is an infringement of the fisheries regulation 2008,” he said.
Jarra West lawmaker, Kajali Fofana, asked whether there is any agreement between the fishing associations who are working on the river and the ministry.
Minister Gomez replied that they have a relationship with fisheries associations. Nonetheless, he said every vessel they licensed have an observer who reports to them daily of the catches the vessel made.
“What we just have to avoid all the times is using the media particularly social media to spread false news. And of course when we heard it, we went and found out it is not true,” he said.
Sedia Jatta, Wuli West lawmaker, asked Gomez whether his ministry made any distinction between penalties meted out to legal fisher persons from none ECOWAS countries and those from ECOWAS countries.
Minister Gomez responded in the positive, saying they have penalties for all infringements.
“What we are presently working on is the different infringements. Unfortunately, the law is open, it doesn’t tell you if somebody is (sic) caught in the wrong zone this is the penalty. If somebody is caught with juvenile fish this is the penalty,” he said.
Speaking further, Minister Gomez said they are looking at their legislation to try and categorize the different categories of crime that could be committed and the penalties meted out to crimes.
Asked again by Sedia Jatta whether the type of gear used determines the type of penalty the culprit should face.
Gomez said that’s just one of others. Using of wrong gears, fishing in an unauthorized zone, and catching juvenile fish are other crimes that should have their penalties.
“So we want to really identify each of the crimes and have a file for each of the crime. Now, we don’t have that. When you commit something, you come and negotiate and sometimes people tell us you are finding too much, you are finding too little. So we want to really regulate that,” he said.
Minister Gomez also disclosed that within the near future, hopefully before the end of the year, they will have a Fisheries Management Center that would show them every vessel that enters the Gambia’s waters and where the vessel is from. He said the said Center will be housed at the fisheries department.
“So anybody who comes wherever you go we will be able to locate you,” he said.
Wuli East lawmaker, Suwabou Touray, said in most countries people are not allowed to fish on breeding grounds all the times. Thus, he asked him whether similar measures are observed in the country.
In response, the Minister said the country’s law said at no time should one fish on breeding grounds.
“And that is why you see we go up country, we go on trek and we go to the small communities to encourage them, to sensitize them that they must not allow that to happen, at no time,” he said.