Maritime Affairs Minister Kirk Humphrey has told fisherfolk to stay at home while the Government seeks to get the fishing industry back up and running, tentatively by March 1, offering a mix of aid and market preparation.
During a virtual meeting on Monday, the minister, while acknowledging many workers’ concerns about loss of sales during this extended period of lockdown, said that the risk currently to workers contracting or spreading COVID-19 was still too great at this time.
Humphrey said: “The position of the Government is still pretty much the same, we would prefer people to stay home. Last night when I spoke to the Prime Minister [Mia Mottley}, her request for me to you, was to stand down [and] stay home at least for the next week, while we still try to manage these issues that are arising in fisheries and in fishing, certainly with COVID.
“The one thing that we are trying to achieve, is to make sure everybody in the industry is safe. That has been the paramount priority for the Government, it is certainly my priority to make sure that we are safe. Even as we think of reopening the markets, to make sure the markets are safe, the persons in the market are safe and so on. The truth is it only takes one case of COVID in the market for us to have to shut down the market.”
Given the close and interactive layout of fish markets, Humphrey said that reopening immediately for commercial activity at this time was simply not safe or advisable.
Markets are not open for vending but the ministry has already begun to make the facilities ready for use as soon as the lockdown of businesses is lifted, the minister told the meeting.
Humphrey said: “I’ve also asked for markets to get up and running – so plug in the ice machine, make sure that ice is available during the course of this week, so that fishermen will have access to ice [when they return]. So that by the middle of the week, the [boats] can go out, and I guarantee you that even if we have to extend the lockdown, we will accommodate you when you come back in.”
Outside of the $250 per week in financial aid fisheries workers are able to access, fishers will have a chance to be partially compensated for lost revenue through the financial assistance for small businesses offered by the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs in the Ministry of Energy, Small Business and Entrepreneurship, Minister Humphrey
“For those who would have lost revenue, or who would have had sunk some expenses because they went out and we made them come back in, or for those who would have bought ice for example and did not get the chance to use it, I propose one of two things,” Humphrey suggested. “Either we will give you half the compensation of what you spent for the ice, so 50 per cent of all your expenses, or we can give you [back] the ice. You get the ice back you spent, provided that you have proof of having spent the money on the ice.”