It has been a hard year for the local fishing community and it doesn’t seem as though the fortunes will change over the last few days of December.
This island’s fisherfolk said that for a majority of 2018 the sector was burdened by the piles of sargassum seaweed that lined the island’s southern and eastern shores. They say its putrid smell deterred the locals and tourists but the murky moss prevented fish from venturing further inland. The adverse effects continue to be felt as flying fish are few and far between and the prices of fish in the markets have also increased due to their rarity.
Over at the popular Berinda Cox Fish Market in Oistins Christ Church, the hustle and bustle of the Christmas season was missing as well as the cheer. Fish hawkers told Barbados TODAY that it was a sluggish season and they were longing for a mad rush this weekend.
In an interview with Barbados TODAY Oistins fish vendor Wilma Hutchinson who has nearly a decade of experience at the market described sales as “ very, very slow”. She blamed the sargassum seaweed for the seasonal shift as flying fish and amberjacks were scarce. Hutchinson recalled how in previous years the market would be abuzz with activity and customers fighting to get fish for the holidays.
“Once before around this time we used to have to shut off the gate to keep people from entering to get flying fish because the flying fish used to come plentiful .. but you aren’t getting none,” said the Oistins vendor.
Hutchinson revealed that her fingers were crossed that sales would improve over the next four days.
“You have to hope for the best and pray your costumers come out for Christmas. That is all you can do. As long as d flying fish come it would improve but as long as you don’t have any flying fish the market will be slow,” she pointed out.
Vendor Cathy Doughty also agreed with Hutchinson that the presence of the decaying sargassum significantly hampered business and changed the eco-system.
“The sargassum messed with the fish, then [the fishermen] were killing the dolphin too small and it messed with the crop and now [the fishermen] are catching the flying fish and it is too small. It would take some time to leave the fish alone and let them grow . . . .
The amber fish filled a void. When they came in they were cheaper, people were buying them and happy with them but now the sargassum is gone, the amber fish is gone,” Doughty pointed out.
The Berinda Cox fish vendor shared that she never imagined during her 25-year career that the prices of fish would sky rocket with flying fish being sold at $30 a pack, dolphin at $11 a pound and marlin at $9 a pound. Although she remained hopeful that Christmas sales would improve in the coming days, Doughty contended consumers could only shop when they had money and presently the spending power was low.
“The customers are not coming in because probably some of them don’t have any money or some of them are waiting until they get pay,” she said.
Neil Carrington was more practical in suggesting “what will be, will be”. The fish vendor told Barbados TODAY business wasn’t bad but it could be better. He reasoned that vendors would have to wait until the new year to see if there will be an improvements.
“Plenty boats will be out in January and we would have plenty more fish coming in. Let us hope when the year turn and January come we get back more flying fish again,” Carrington said.
When asked if there should be investment in a breeding programme due to the dearth of fish, Carrington expressed that it was best to leave it to mother nature.
“They tried the fish breeding programme in Barbados already and it didn’t work because it cost too much money to keep the fish living. If you feed them too much they will die and if you feed them too little they still are going to die,” he stated.