For many years now the Honduran Merchant Marine (Mercante Marina) has required all fishing vessels to be equipped with satellite tracking devices. Over the years these devices have evolved into very reliable and trouble-free machines. Their main purpose is to let the authorities know exactly where the vessel is located at all times while it is at sea. They do their job quite well.
Some of us boat owners try to save some money by having these devices disabled during the off season by the company that provides the service. This works well. Boat owners typically save about $360. But if you need to move your boat to another part of the country for repairs or to fetch fishing gear or other paraphernalia needed to get the boat ready for the opening if the lobster season, things get complicated.
The personnel at the Honduran fisheries management agency (DIGIPESCA) are supposed to make sure that no one violates the law by fishing out of season. There is no law that states that the vessel must be tied to the dock for all of the off season. But these officers of the law will not permit us to move to another port without getting a special permit from Tegucigalpa and without the tracking devices activated.
It stands to reason that a vessel going from Bonacca to La Ceiba will only be off the radar for a very short while. From port to port the maximum time is about eight hours. There’s no way anyone can stop to fish or do anything else along the route in such a short time.
We fishermen understand that the special permits are all about money. But it is impossible to turn on our tracking devices for just a few hours. The tracking apparatus are controlled from France. The latter part of this problem could be solved by simply not filing a request to have the system turned off in the first place. This is especially true for vessels that do not have their lobster traps freighted to Bonacca.
This year some of us are being billed huge sums by Argos, the satellite tracking giant, which provides our tracking service. It appears that there has been a change of personnel and a full audit took place. The auditors are having problems matching the money to the proof of deposit receipts.
What that means is that the people that cannot find the copies of their deposit slips will have to come up with all the money to bring their accounts up to date or their vessels will not be able to sail come July 1, the start of lobster season.
This reminds me of many incidents that took place a few years back when the national telephone company (Hondutel) would send people to the islands to collect telephone bills that were supposedly overdue. The burden of proof always fell on the subscribers. We would ask, if a bill went unpaid for so long, how come the service was never suspended? It was like a game of chance, with Hondutel betting the subscribers would not be able to find their old stubs to prove they had paid their bills years earlier.
At present it appears all the tracking devices are turned off, and it’s because of the problems with the payments. I’m not too sure how this works, but I believe that for Argos to turn off any account that is in arrears, they have to turn off that particular block. A block can contain more than one account, so the innocent must pay for the guilty.