Government is now exploring ways of getting loans to fishermen to buy, upgrade, or refurbish boats, in a bid to turn around both perceptions and fortunes of the fisheries industry, Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy Kirk Humphrey has said.
Ignorance and a lack of appreciation of the ocean’s potential for Barbados’ development might have led to fishermen being neglected and fisheries becoming unattractive to investors, the Minister said.
Among options being examined is a lease-to-own arrangement for new boat purchases in which “the fishermen will lease the boats from Government but over time. By paying for them, they will own the boats so that we could fill the gap for now that the banks wouldn’t fill because we determined that fishing and fishermen in this country are too important to be left behind”.
Humphey said that the disregard of fisheries is so great that the continuity of business for many fishermen is being threatened.
Addressing constituents at the weekend, the St Michael South MP described as “unfair, unfortunate and wrong” the inability of fisherfolk to obtain bank loans despite the presentation of financial records.
Humphrey said: “How can we be saying we want to complete the circle of enfranchisement for everybody else and leaving out the fishermen, the people who need it most?”
He said that the grief of the fisheries industry was made even worse in the past by an all-round shortage of money for support.He said: “If you have limited resources they’re going to put those resources where you are going to get the most bang for your buck.
“People didn’t think it was the ocean because they didn’t understand the fact we’re 400 times bigger out there than we are here.”
Noting that his newly-coined ministry absorbed the Fisheries Department from the Ministry of Agriculture, he said: “People who work in fisheries would tell you that they often felt like the left-out step child of the Agriculture Ministry and that no attention was paid to the issues in fisheries for a long time.”
Humphrey was at the time reporting on his ministerial portfolio to the Labour Party’s St Michael South branch at the Graydon Sealy School at The Garrison, where he also touched on fish market conditions, seafaring training for young Barbadians and security at the shipping port.
Humphrey said: “The state of our [fish] markets, in some ways, is embarrassing…. They still have a lot of these countertops that are tiled and between them a lot of dirt”.
He said that there are broken tiles, leaking plumbing, cupboards falling apart, and complained that “the market hasn’t seen any real repair in a long time”.
“We want to make all the countertops in every market in Barbados eventually a stainless-steel top. So that you wouldn’t be able to deal with fish in an area that would lend itself to bacteria.
“That is one area where I feel we can make an urgent and immediate improvement,” he said.
Further explaining the urgency in this regard, the Minister said some countries refuse fish from Barbados because “they don’t think we have the standards”.
“We have to elevate our standards,” he said, explaining that such improvements will benefit all.
As part of the overall government effort to get some of the unemployed off the block, Humphrey said he will “very soon” begin a training programme for young men to be seafarers.
He told constituents: “We’ve been speaking to a lot of these international shipping and cruise lines and different people who are involved in the industry.
“If we train them up, they [industry operators] have the capacity to take almost all we train.”
Regarding port security, Humphrey said that when he was appointed to office at the end of May last year, most of the cameras in the port were found to out of order, “so that if something came in or left the port you couldn’t tell because the cameras that were supposed to tell you ain’t working”.
Confidently speaking of security improvements that included repairs to the single malfunctioning container scanner and adding another one, the Minister declared: “Anybody who determines that they want to come through the port and . . . engage in activities that they should not engage in this country, they got to be real smart to get through, or real foolish to try now.”