EEZ Committee steps up monitoring Saba Bank

The secretary of the Dutch Caribbean Committee on Marine Biodiversity and Fisheries Paul Hoetjes clarified the challenges to be met by the different institutions involved in the implementation of the nature policy. Hoetjes is nature policy coordinator of the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation working from the Rijksdienst Caribisch Nederland in Bonaire. He said the goals of the Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) Committee’s meeting on Saba this week are to increase knowledge about the fisheries and biodiversity resources in the area through monitoring programmes, to outline the level of regional cooperation and to assess steps taken based on the committee’s recommendations.

Among the results he mentioned are agreements with the French islands and the Dominican Republic on marine mammal sanctuaries, and a declaration of intent with the Dominican Republic and the United States on cooperation towards the establishment of a marine sanctuary in Dutch Kingdom waters.

Hoetjes explained that the committee’s role in setting up regulations is to only recommend policies to island governments, advising what should be done for the sustainability of resources. Asked about the moratorium on fishing permits, Hoetjes confirmed this was a recommendation followed by the Saba Government until research data on the potential depletion of resources becomes available. He explained that permits are given according to existing laws and that there is no restriction on Saba fisheries with valid permits that hire foreign labour, as long as residency permits are obtained for their crew. Hoetjes indicated that the implementation and consequences of the moratorium are being looked into by legal experts who will be brought to the island.

Hoetjes said the EEZ Committee is actively working on establishing a Saba Bank Management Unit, which is going to be set-up to patrol the Saba Bank and to check the fishing permits. The Saba Conservation Foundation will be hosting this separate management unit which will have its own patrol boat. A contract is being worked on in the Netherlands to allow for the hiring of management and patrolling staff. He expects the unit will be operational by May.

Asked if the patrol staff will be boarding vessels and conducting cargo inspections, Hoetjes said this would require special police authority. The patrol unit would only report suspicions of illegal activity to the Coast Guard and the Police. He believes that once monitored the unsustainable practices of fishermen raiding others’ traps will stop.

The Saba Bank Management Unit is also to monitor research conducted on the coral reef status of the Bank, look at local marine life populations, and manage the equipment and contracting of researchers from institutions in the Netherlands.

Concerning the expansion of NuStar Statia Terminal, Hoetjes said that because of dangers inherent in the development the EEZ committee is looking at establishing a series of regional agreements to set minimal standards for oil spill preparedness. He mentioned the Protocol Concerning Co-operation and Development in Combating Oil Spills in the Wider Caribbean Region, which The Netherlands has signed, and which also includes the Dutch Caribbean islands.

Hoetjes said the Dutch government will ensure the terminal expansion will be in compliance with all international agreements. Asked about requirements concerning the traffic of oiltankers, specifically the use of single versus double-hull oil-tankers, Hoetjes stated that he had confirmed with officials in St. Eustatius that “as of 10-10-10 no single- hull tankers are allowed any longer in Statia.” Ask about a fund in case of a disaster, Hoetjes mentioned the “Fund Convention,” a mechanism under which the affected parties file for compensation. He said the Netherlands Antilles was a party to that convention and that country membership requires payment of dues towards that fund. “One of the requirements is that you cannot claim from the fund if you haven’t paid your dues,” said Hoetjes adding that “we are now looking at whether the dues were actually paid by the Netherlands Antilles and whether the membership of the Netherlands now extends to coverage of the public entities.”

Source: “The Daily Herald” 2012-03-09