Ontong Java chief calls on Fisheries to return confiscated beche-de-mer

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A Lord Howe chief has called on the Ministry of Fisheries to return the beche-de-mer that were confiscated on Tuesday night this week back to the owners.

Chief Bartholomew Kokolopu said with the covid-19 situation the country is facing, the Ministry of Fisheries should sympathise with the beche-de-mer owners and return those beche-de-mer that were confiscated on Tuesday night at the Point Cruz wharf, inside MV Onogou on her return from Lord Howe.

“The owners of those beche-de-mer in fact had breached Fisheries regulation because they harvest the beche-de-mer illegally, but I want the Fisheries to sympathize and understand our situation.

“We the Lordhowe people did not have other means to earn money from but only through Beche-de-mer,” Kokolopu said.

He said what happened on Tuesday night was a really sad scenario; Officers from Ministry of Fisheries along with Police officers went inside the ship and checked all the luggage and also inside the crew-rooms.

And after a thorough check they took off with the cartons of beche-de-mer, Kokolopu said.

Kokolopu blamed the Fisheries office for ignoring Lordhowe chiefs request since 2018, they have been discussing with them to assist the chiefs in raising awareness and explain the regulation to the people but nothing forth coming.

“I was also one of the member delegation that came some two years back and last year discussing with the Director of Fisheries for a possible way forward for Lordhowe people, and for their officers to come to Lordhowe and educate our people relating to beche-de-mer issues.

“In our discussion we told them that it will be effective once anybody from the office to down to our people and tell them why they ban the beche-de-mer, instead our request fall on deaf ears,” Kokolopu said.

He said Fisheries officers should at least work with the Chiefs of Lord Howe so that any decision made is fair to them and the resources owners.

He also said in 2018 the ban lifted in October because of the National General Election, and at that time it was not in the interest of Lordhowe people to lift the ban, and after the ban imposed again.

“Earlier this year we made a call to the Fisheries again if they could allow us some time do the harvesting just for our survival, they refused our request, and because of no other means we can earn money our people continue to harvest illegally”, Kokolopu said.

Kokolopu said Fisheries had refused to visit their communities and also refused to consider their call, therefore they should have been blamed for the people’s action.

“Since the Fisheries office did not respond to our call, we the resource owners decided that since the beche-de-mer are ours, we continue to harvest because it is our God given resources,” Kokolopu said.

Therefore, he calls on the Ministry of Fisheries to return the confiscated beche-de-mer.

Meanwhile this paper made contacts with the Ministry of Fisheries to confirm the raid but was unsuccessful, since the Director of Fisheries was busy in a bilateral meeting yesterday.