Minister of Maritime Affairs and the Blue Economy Kirk Humphrey has made a plea for patience while fisherfolk complain that the recent increase in bus fare is harming their trade.
Vendors at the Bridgetown Fish Market and the Cheapside Market told a visiting team led by Opposition Leader Reverend Joseph Atherley that while sales have been slow over the years, it was made worse when bus fare was increased from $2 to $3.50, effective April 15.
Atherley suggested that Government provide assistance to the vendors through tax breaks and other incentives, including help with promotion and marketing.
But in response, Humphrey, while not entirely dismissing the concerns, told Barbados TODAY his ministry had already embarked on various initiatives that should help bring more sales to the fisher folk across the island.
“I understand them, but I believe we are doing as much as we can do and where we have fallen short, we will do more to help the vendors survive this period.
“I think we have been doing a lot to help the fisher folk and to help fisheries in general. I do not know we could make a direct correlation though, between the recent increase in bus fare and the drop off of customers.”
Nevertheless, Humphrey said from day one, as minister with responsibility for the fish markets, he has been hearing of low sales, a decline in fish stocks and the need for other issues to be addressed.
In a bid to deal with these issues, his ministry set $5.2 million aside for market upgrades out of the $15 million allocated to his ministry in this year’s budget, he said.
At the same time, Humphrey said he was calling on fisherfolk to bear with Government, as it struggles to get the economy back on track.
Explaining that the Barbados Labour Party administration found a situation in which “financially it was ridiculous” when it came to office a year ago, the Maritime Affairs Minister said “this means that as we try to balance our books and pay our bills, some of us will be asked to carry just a little bit of the burden for a little bit of time”.
He continued: “I want to put the fisher folk in a position though, where they are making more money. If I can help you improve your sales or if we could help each other improve the sales, catch more fish, help you do it in a more [suitable] environment, help you create a second area of revenue, then that will help compensate for it.
“But the reality is, and I say it to them, and I say it to everybody else, we are going through a structural adjustment programme. It is a difficult time for the country and we are asking everybody to carry a little more of the burden. I understand them, because I spend so much time now in the market.”
He said while there were a number of things to be done to help fisherfolk, it was decided that an upgrade, currently underway, would be the first step.
“So you are going to see, in the next seven weeks when we complete it, a completely transformed market,” he said.
He said beyond the need for marketing and promotion which the Government was glad to help with, the operators must also play their part by being more professional.
“We came to an understanding with the workers in the market that we have to conduct ourselves now as business people. It is a business,” he insisted.
As such, said Humphrey, a code of conduct would be developed and a co-operative and an association would also be introduced to represent all the interests of fisher folk on the island.
“There is now BARNUFO [Barbados National Union of Fisherfolk Organization], but I believe there needs to be one that represents all the workers’ interest. The best person to represent you will always be you.
“We have to do more to make it exciting to advertise what is being offered in the markets and to encourage people to come.”
Adding that Barbados was a “victim of climate change”, he said his ministry was also in the process of coming up with a solution to low fish stocks.
“As the water gets warmer there is going to be less fish in the region and we need to protect some of these waters, maybe through the marine managed areas so that the fish and reefs could replenish themselves,” he said.
Humphrey said he would be meeting with fisherfolk in coming weeks when they will be able to put outstanding issues on the table and help to come up with possible solutions.