Fishing boats may be exposed to even higher risk of damage and destruction than during previous storms as Tropical Storm Kirk passes by.
There is no working crane to lift them to safety at the nation’s central fishing centre.
An advocate for local fishing community, boat owner Hallam Payne, blames the previous administration for an apparent precarious situation facing the vessels.
The body representing the nation’s fishers, boat owners and vendors has told Barbados TODAY the new Minister responsible for fisheries is working to resolve the problem.
But there are fears that any fix won’t come in time to save fishing boats lashed by the storm’s heavy surf and battering waves over the next several hours.
Payne has called for an urgent overhaul of the Bridgetown Fisheries Complex, the usual safe berth for most fishing boats in severe weather. For now, the vessels are exposed to danger without a working crane to pull their boats to dry dock, he said, blaming the Democratic Labour Party administration.
“The crane was here 11 years; it come in by the Barbados Labour Party when they were in power and it was there for 11 years. Some of the parts I believe gone. I believe the company that made that crane must [have] shut down,” he said, adding that initially the crane was intended for the Berinda Cox Fisheries Complex in Oistins but was never stationed there.
“That crane was for Oistins,” Payne told Barbados TODAY as he pointed to its original location at the Bridgetown complex.
“With this storm coming we could get the boats in Oistins,” he said pointing to area car parks which would serve as dry dock for the vessels.
“We would . . . get as much out of the water that we could. But, that other Government [took] 11 years,” he said referring to the crane which is still not operational.
Another landing site, Consett Bay Fish Market in St John, could only hold boats up to 37 feet long, he said. Consett Bay could not cater to the larger, higher-earning, boats for export fish-harvesting, he suggested.
“[The] a crane up at Consett . . . could only haul up 37-foot boats. Look at these boats here 40, 45, 40-something foot boats and the Government does benefit from these boats with the buoys in them. We ship fish overseas and the Government [gets] foreign reserves at no cost from those boats. That is the boats that should get relief. The money comes back from those boats in US [currency],” he said. He blamed the former administration for making the “mistake” of only allowing 37-foot boats to shelter at Consett Bay.
“The only boats that could go in Consett are the 37-foot boats. We don’t know who arrange that but it arrange under the next administration, not this administration,” he said.
Without the facilities to haul their boats from the water Payne said he expected some fishermen to leave their homes and sleep inside their boats tonight during Tropical Storm Kirk in an effort to protect their vessels.
“This weather coming down on Barbados and some people got to leave their homes and get down in their boats and all kind of things. We don’t know what to do. The fishing industry is in bad need of restructuring,” Payne declared.
With the broken crane and the inability to lift boats to dry dock at Bridgetown the only solution was to “bunch [the boats] up together”.
“Now you cannot get them out of the water; there is nowhere to put them unless you go in the harbour and use their big crane. So, we have no help, no way to turn just look to get them to bunch up on top each other,” he said.
Payne accused the Barbados National Union of Fisherfolk Organizations (BARNUFO) of not heeding his call to do more to refurbish the city fishing complex, describing his experience as similar to that of the biblical Noah.
“[BARNUFO] remind me of when Noah did preaching; people run he and pelt rocks and say he did mad,” he claimed.
But hauling facilities for local fishermen was one of the concerns raised last month in a meeting with Minister of Maritime Affairs and Blue Economy Kirk Humphrey, BARNUFO president Vernell Nicholls told Barbados TODAY.
“We had a meeting with the Minister last month because it is known that there is no crane in the industry to haul up their boats and that is a topic that we brought up with the Minister in August,” Nichols said.
“He is looking to address that situation. The thing is that the fishermen know how they are expected to tie up their boats and this has been an issue for a while. In the past, there was no actual person looking to address it.
“We now have a new Minister and . . . we had a meeting last month to look at hurricane preparedness and this was one of the issues that the fishermen brought up,” Nicholls told Barbados TODAY.
In the wake of Tropical Storm Kirk, she said that the reality is that the local fishermen have no facilities to take their boats out of the water.
“As the situation is right now we do not have a crane to lift their vessels out and if they do get a crane it is very expensive. I can tell you that there is an issue as it relates to haul up and space. These are the issues that I am saying that has to be addressed.
“I know in the past the fishermen usually some of them from Oistins . . . haul them high up from off the beach,” Nicholls said, urging the owners of small boats to contact the Fisheries Division for assistance with their haul-up operations.
Nicholls expressed concerns that a more severe category 5 hurricane would destroy many of the vessels in the Bridgetown Fisheries Complex.
“We recognized that if there is a real category 5 or 4 hurricane that we may incur losses as it relates to vessels and it is an issue and a matter that has to be addressed urgently as it relates to haul up,” she said, noting there was no room for boats at the already-packed Port of Bridgetown.
Payne also complained there were too many derelict fishing boats in the complex taking up much-needed space.
“Them got a lot of old boats that would take moving and we tell the Minister already and he got papers on some that was supposed to move. This Government going in the right direction for we and I backing them 100 per cent,” he said.
The BARNUFO head agreed that the abandoned boats posed a problem for seaworthy vessels – another issue engaging the new Minister’s attention, she said.
“Even [in the] Bridgetown [fisheries complex] with all of those derelict boats in there taking up space on land. All of those are the issues that came up in a meeting last month and that is why the Minister is trying to get rid of those derelict boats that have been sitting there for a long time,” said Nicholls.
She hoped that moving forward, fisherfolk could have access haulage equipment and facilities but hinted that boat losses were likely from Tropical Storm Kirk.
“Going forward things should get better. It would be very unfortunate if persons lost their vessels but that is the reality at this time,” she said.