News day reporter
Eleven proud Tobagonians received certificates from the All-Tobago Fisher Folk Association (ATFA) on Sunday, after an apprenticeship program on building fishing nets and fish traps. The graduation ceremony was held in conjunction with Shell Oil Company, at Courland Bay, Turtle Beach.
The graduates, aged 18 to 35, from the communities of Plymouth, Culloden, Bon Accord and surrounding areas, were trained for a month. The program, which started on January 10, featured the net fishing component at Turtle Beach, while the pot fishing course was hosted at Government House Road and Canaan.
One of the graduates, Kayle Matthews of Golden Lane, said he was happy with the program. He said, “I learned a new skill that a lot of people don’t have. It was good to take the young people out. I don’t mind teaching the knowledge to other young people, and once I get the funding, I want to make a career out of it.
ATFA President Curtis Douglas said the young apprentices learned how to create their own nets and were trained in how to make and build fish traps from start to finish.
Douglas added: “The association had been advocating for the training program for five years because it was observed that older people had talent, but the talent and skills were not being passed on to younger people.”
The oil company Shell was praised by Douglas for its role in the success of the program. He said the training program will be rolled out to other parts of Tobago, including the east of the island.
Nathisha Charles-Pantin, secretary for food security, natural resources, environment and sustainable development, told the association that they can expect full support from the division in all their efforts.
“Having a skill like building fish traps and fishing nets is a very useful skill, and of course it’s all part of succession planning, so that young people can become self-sufficient and start their own businesses and not not become completely dependent on the Tobago House of Assembly.
Speaking directly to attendees, Black Rock/Plymouth representative Niall George said: “This is just the first step, and we encourage you to continue this journey, as you all have an important role to play in food security on this island. .
“Being from this community I can tell you that the fishermen are dwindling, the number of them I knew in my youth is certainly a smaller number now. I am indeed glad to see young people get into this business, so I say to all of you, keep this journey going.
Chief Secretary Farley Augustine, who was the keynote speaker, said graduates are the most important part of the fishing industry.
He said, “No sophisticated repository is as important as learning institutional knowledge. It’s about passing on native information, and if we don’t pass on the information, soon those who know it will die.
Augustine said holding the Heritage Festival in Black Rock in July each year is not enough.
“We need to pass on knowledge from seniors to young people, in a more systematic way, which is why what AFTA, in partnership with Shell, has done is incredibly important.”
He encouraged graduates not to “sit” on the knowledge they have acquired.
“You have a responsibility to practice it, earn a living from it, and teach the craft to other young people. Consider what you learn as life changing.”
He said the industry plays a central role in Tobago’s economic landscape.
“I was reliably informed about a month ago that when we reviewed the loan profiles of our major financial institutions that deal with agriculture, the vast majority of those seeking loans in the Tobago actually come from the fishermen, unlike our farmers – and that in itself is indicative of the importance of fishing in Tobago.