The arrest and subsequent charge of a Tobago fisherman for breaching the COVID-19 health protocol is creating unease among the island’s fishermen, who fear they can now be arrested and charged for trying to make a living.
Last Sunday (August 23), Dale Percy, of Bon Accord, a fisherman, was arrested for breaching the Public Health Ordinance. When he appeared in court the following day, he pleaded not guilty and was granted bail of $5,000.
Vice President of the All Tobago Fisherfolk Association (ATFA) Curtis Douglas said he was very disappointed by this development.
“Based on our understanding, Mr Percy, who is a seasoned fisherman, would have observed that his vessel had taken in a significant amount of water due to the heavy rain and bad weather. To prevent the vessel from sinking, he had to go out to sea and bail the vessel, and we understand that it was while coming back to the land he was arrested.”
Douglas said fishermen are expected to get into the water at some point and greater consideration should be given to them.
“We are not saying that we are above the law in any way but this is just one of the areas where we feel that understanding should take precedence,” Douglas said.
He said he has since been receiving calls from fishermen from different communities seeking advice on whether or they can ply their trade to take care of their families.
“Some areas are fortunate enough to have jetties, others are not. In Plymouth, for instance, fishermen have to get into the water and swim to access their boats and to bring their catch ashore. Who is going to assure them that while doing that they will not be arrested and charged?”
However, the police report on the charging of the fisherman is telling a different story.
According to a T&T Police Service release, WPC Carter of the Crown Point Police station was on patrol in the area when saw the fisherman bathing on the beach.
The officer said she told Percy to come ashore but he said he was “bailing water from a boat with my brother and he left me, so I decided to take a swim.”
As of August 18, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley announced that all beaches and rivers, among other recreation activities, would be closed for the next 28 days.
Chief Secretary Ancil Dennis weighed in on the matter at Wednesday’s post-Executive Council media briefing.
“There are three sides to every story and all I am prepared to say is that based on the information I received, the legal process should be followed in this matter,” Dennis said.
During a Ministry of Health press conference earlier this week it was also clarified that fishermen are allowed to ply their trade.