by Emmanuel Joseph
Many of the island’s fishermen may be out of work when the new fishing season officially opens next month. That was the consensus of a group of fishermen, boat owners and builders who operate out of Oistins, Christ Church, Consett Bay in St. John and the Bridgetown Fisheries Complex.
When a team from Barbados TODAY visited Consett Bay this morning, no fewer than half-dozen of them were present carrying out repairs to some of the estimated 20 large fishing vessels – the majority being ice boats, that were accommodated in a cramped space at that fishing bay. Among a litany of complaints and fears was that a lot of them, particularly the “day boat” operators, might not be able to get their vessels repaired to go fishing this coming season and contribute to an industry which last year pumped some $7.7 million into the local economy and accounted for an annual average of between 2,000 and 5,000 metric tons of fish.
Charles Inniss, who operates from Oistins and owns the ice boat the Chris-Dee, echoed the sentiments of boat repairman, Ian Gibson of Consett Bay that repairs were a challenge.
“A lot of fishermen may not be able to get their boats repaired. Some might not be able to get back into the water this season and those who get out, may not be able to get their boats back in,” Inniss said. They identified a decline in catches and ultimately, revenue, caused by the recent invasion of Sargassum sea weed around the seas and beaches of Barbados as the problem. “The flying fish shy away from the moss,” explained one of the veteran fisherfolk. “The fishermen had a very hard season for the past two years. I don’t know how some of them even manage,” declared Inniss, who brings his vessel once a year to Consett Bay for repairs in preparation for each approaching season.
It is a practice, the men said that most fishermen now have to contend with regardless of where they are based.
“For years now, there is no Tommy Lift at Oistins to haul our boats out of the water; and even if we were to get the boats on land, the dry dock space at Oistins is very inadequate. Last year, it cost me $1,500 to get my boat hauled from out of the sea at the Bridgetown Fisheries Complex just a couple feet onto the land. Then I had to get it down here at Consett,” lamented fisherman and owner of the boat Judy, Leonard Neville Norville.
Norville said if there was a lift at Oistins, it would be much easier for him to do his repairs at that Christ Church fishing town.
“The Government promised us for years, they would give us a Tommy Lift at Oistins, but they have the Lift at the Bridgetown Fisheries Complex covered down for all this time. I had to catch a bus this morning to get down here at Consett Bay,” bemoaned the fisherman who had been in the business for the past 19 years.
He noted that last season, the fish catches were “nothing”, only about 3,000 flying fish. Norville informed this newspaper that when things were good, the average catches could be between 8,000 and 9,000, including some dolphins.
Terry Downes, a third generation fisherman of 11 years and a boat builder based at the Bridgetown Fisheries Complex, owns the Lady Carmen. Downes, along with Norville, showed the Barbados TODAY team evidence that the bottom of their boats had been eaten by “sea worms”, he claimed while anchored at the dock of the Bridgetown Fisheries Complex.
“I believe the reason for that is that the water there is stagnant and needs a wider outlet at the end of the pier for fresh water to come in and the stagnant water to go out to sea. That area at the complex also needs dredging and expanding; it has outlived its present capacity considering the large number of boats docking there,” insisted Downes.
The majority of the fishermen summarised their problems as a need for improved docking and repair facilities at the various sites, especially Consett Bay where most of the large vessels were taken. At Oistins itself, fisherman Steven Bourne had two of his three boats under repair.
Bourne said that despite the challenges, he should have all three ready to work when the fishing season opened next month. The veteran fisherman and boat owner told Barbados TODAY that Tropical Storm Isaac had badly damaged his boats but that one was “in the water working” and the others undergoing repairs.