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Challenges of the Fishery
“Guardians of the Sea”…..?

“Guardians of the Sea”…..?

Date: May 25th , 2017

Dear Editor/Newsroom,

“Guardians of the Sea”…..?

The Institute of Marine Affairs (IMA) has recently released the 2016 State of the Marine Environment Report which revealed disturbing information regarding the elevated levels of sewage on Trinidad’s north-west coastal areas; and elevated levels of total suspended solids, hydrocarbons, nutrients and heavy metals especially in the Gulf of Paria.
But is this new information? Why is our Nation suddenly shocked by these findings? There have been many studies conducted for the past three decades which highlighted the ongoing issue of dangerous hydrocarbon and heavy metal pollution in the Gulf of Paria.

Hydrocarbon Levels

  1. In 2014, the IMA tested samples of oysters which had elevated levels of hydrocarbons (10.58-38.59 μg/g). The report concluded that “the elevated levels of hydrocarbons in the oysters suggest that they were contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons”.
  2. Dr. Banjoo, the Principal Research Officer in the IMA, sampled oysters in the Gulf of Paria in 2002 and stated the oysters in the Gulf of Paria were contaminated with petroleum hydrocarbons.
  3. IMA’s 2014 final report: Environmental Status of the South-western Peninsula after the December 2013 Gulf of Paria Oil Spill, indicated that “there were high levels of contamination by petroleum hydrocarbons and that there is an increased probability of sediments being toxic to benthic organisms”. The hydrocarbon content of sediments of La Brea coastal areas (100μg/g) was 3 times the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) standard (36μg/g). This 2014 report also revealed that “the levels of hydrocarbons in the water and sediment suggest possible contamination of biota tissues and exceeded the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) suggested screening value of 0.00547 μg/g (which is based on the risk of developing cancer from consuming contaminated seafood from finfish and shellfish) for PAHs in finfish and shell fish”. The levels of hydrocarbons in the edible muscle of carite, cavali, croaker, mullet, redfish, salmon, and shrimp samples ranged from 0.072.73 μg/g.

    Instead of repeating the same findings over and over can the Government advise us what has been done?
  4. In 2012, the Department of Life Sciences of the University of the West Indies conducted a study on the risk assessment of the PAH contamination in the Caroni Swamp and concluded that the “Incremental Lifetime Cancer Risk (ILCR) values for the maximum exposed individuals were between 33 to 65 times higher than the acceptable level of risk. Therefore the probability of oyster consumers getting cancer will be higher than is acceptable.”
    FFOS laments, nothing has been done, not even the scantiest of public warnings, and citizens are eating shrimp and fish from this area daily.
  5. A 2006 report titled “Assessment of Biota Quality in the Gulf Of Paria: Hydrocarbon Component” by Dr Banjoo from the IMA revealed that Chaguaramas had PAH levels (5446.4 ng/g dry wt) which exceeded the Canadian Marine Sediment Quality Guidelines. This report also stated that “oysters, green mussels, and mok from Chaguaramas, Brick field, Claxton Bay and Godineau contain hydrocarbon levels unfit for consumption”. The levels of hydrocarbons in these samples exceeded the maximum allowable concentration of benzo[a]pyrene (a toxic hydrocarbon) in shellfish for shellfish criteria for British Columbia, 1993.

    Over and over the Government have sought to dilute FFOS findings of dangerous levels of cancer causing PAHs, yet the Government funded studies support FFOS published data.
    Heavy metals:
    The IMA’s State of the Environment 2016 Report states that the “sediment quality is the poorest in the Gulf of Paria”. The results of the sediment analysis suggest that heavy metals may have the potential to adversely affect aquatic life”, the very same aquatic life the fish consumers consume on a regular basis. Yet just a few months ago, February 2017, the Honorable Minister of Planning and Development, Camille Robinson-Regis publicly stated, the fish from the Gulf of Paria “were deemed safe for human consumption”. The IMA did not provide any values for the levels of heavy metals in the coastal sediments of Trinidad and Tobago. The sediment quality was classed as “very good”, “good”, “fair” or “poor” in this report. Why weren’t the values for the levels of heavy metals in the Gulf of Paria released to the public? The public is entitled to know the level of risk they are being exposed to.

We are once again aware that the Gulf of Paria is heavily polluted and the marine fishes and other animals which we all consume are also contaminated. FFOS questions:

  1. What is next step for the IMA?
  2. What will be the outcome of this “2016 State of the Environment” report?
  3. Are there any recommendations on how to clean up the Gulf of Paria?
  4. Are there any recommendations in place to prevent the ongoing pollution in the Gulf of Paria.

    The IMA have strayed from their mission of “Guardians of the Ocean”, and although they admit that “there are 24 Policies that touch on aspects of coastal and ocean management” they now call for “policy intervention”. Policies as the IMA should know are not easily enforceable by Law. Many separate, often overlapping policies complicate implementation. FFOS questions what good are policies if there are no implementation and no concrete Law to command authority or enforcement but yet the IMA now call for “policy intervention”.
    Should they not instead give thorough scientific details on the level of contaminants which they have sampled?
    Shouldn’t they properly advise citizens of the risk, and not just say “don’t swim near to the river mouth”?
    Should residents of highly contaminated areas consume near shore fish and at what safe consumption rate considering bio-accumulation and biomagnification?
    Shouldn’t they announce investigations into fingerprinting the source of the contaminants and openly advise sound recommendations to the line Minister (the Hon. Camille Robinson-Regis) for legislative support to address daily derelict fecal, hydrocarbon, heavy metal and toxic discharges often by State entities and ensure the implementation of a compensation program for our 8000 registered fishers and their families? Shouldn’t the IMA fulfill their mandate? We are destroying the Gulf of Paria which was deemed one of the most bio-diverse most productive waters in Trinidad. We are destroying lives with poor public administrators. Unless the Honorable Minister and her Cabinet act quickly to stop the daily mismanagement of our natural resources our people will continue to reap a whirlwind of contamination, diseases and economic hardship.

Gary Aboud
Corporate Secretary

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