Local fisherman and vendors at the country’s fish markets are becoming increasingly agitated about rising costs, dwindling profits and poor facilities, as they operate in an increasingly hostile marine environment.
According to reports, the increased cost of diesel which was imposed when government replaced road tax with a fuel tax last year has been sinking the profits of local fishermen and significantly increasing prices.
In an interview today at the Argentinean embassy, Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy, Kirk Humphrey acknowledged the vital industry was in a less than ideal state.
“This is a transition and during the transition, we intend to work with the fishermen to make sure that they are in a position to maintain themselves, but I understand the frustration. We have been very cognizant as a government that it costs the fishermen more because there is an additional cost on diesel.
“They are not catching a lot of fish, because there’s not a lot of fish to be caught and all of those things are driving up the prices,” admitted Minister Humphrey.
While he encouraged members of the public to continue to “stick with the fishermen,” he admitted that government needed to do more to bring the ailing industry back to life. He said the administration intended to assist with the much-needed refurbishment of fishing boats by replacing the diesel-powered engines and batteries with parts powered by renewable sources of energy.
“We need to retool the fishermen. I think we need to retrofit the boats,” he said, adding that government was actively seeking the necessary financing for the retrofitting of fishing boats with solar power and other kinds of renewable energy.
However, he acknowledged that with the country still in the midst of economic turmoil, stakeholders would have to be patient.
“Unfortunately we as Barbadians have been asked to carry a little bit more for a little bit longer. In my conversations with the fishermen, I’ve had to tell them the same thing. Just give us a little time to address the overall economic conditions and then when we are in a position to pass on the benefits, then I guarantee we will pass on the
benefits to the fishing industry,” said Humphrey.
But while fishermen are busy attempting to recoup their financial losses, threats to safety have also become an increasing concern. In the latest incident, six Trinidadian fishermen were kidnapped by Venezuelan bandits who are now demanding US$200,000 for their safe return.
According to Humphrey, with Barbadian fishermen regularly going adrift due to “the diesel situation,” Barbados was not immune to such threats.
“Often times when they turn off their engine and attempt to restart, because there is no energy, the batteries don’t start. If we have the renewable energy platform, they would have electricity all the time and the possibility of that is reduced significantly because when they turn their engines, the boats are 99.9 per cent more likely to restart,” he said.
He added that government was attempting to have fully functioning radio and communication systems to improve contact between the coast guard and fishermen.
“The coast guard had once told me that a lot of the fishermen go adrift and sometimes we don’t even know when they go out. We have asked our fishermen to have constant communication so that we know where they are.
“We also have to recognize that sovereign waters are sovereign waters and when you drift into somebody else’s waters there’s the potential for something to happen. I think that we have to be very careful,” said Humphrey.