FISHERMEN here and around the world last Friday observed the annual Fishermen’s Day.
This age-old tradition has seen as many changes over time. But much has also remained the same over time, as with those fishermen whose fortunes continue to rise and plunge without much meaningful change.
Today, there are more fishermen and more boats — and more fishermen’s cooperatives. But the fortunes of these organized units have also ebbed and flowed with the tide.
Some cooperatives naturally see better days ashore than their members do at sea. But in many cases too, apart from the annual Fishermen’s Day festivities, there’s a yawning gap between what fishermen really expect and what they do get from those charged with their care.
Fishermen are increasingly voicing displeasure with everything from the absence of appropriate landing and locker facilities to the need for safer and healthier facilities to vend fish publicly.
In this age when fishing has long gone scientific and technological, too many of our fishermen depend hook-line-and-sinker on little more than fish pots and nets while ignoring all else. Outboard motors have replaced oars and sails, but exploring and sustainably exploiting our fishing resources will also require innovation in the search for solutions.
We can and do innovate: Sea Moss production has created a new and always-in-demand industry beverage; prawn production has allowed many farmers to enter this fishing industry without spending a day at sea; and we’ve discovered and demonstrated — to the gastronomical delight of those who’ve dared taste it — that we can eat our Lion Fish problem away. And now, we’re selling the world a near-perfect solution to the coastal and fishing problems created by our widening Sargasso Sea.
With the Caribbean effects of Climate Change having already sent Flying Fish migrating aerially from Barbadian to Tobagonian waters, it’s good that the cooperatives are being enlisted in the fight to save our fishermen from the potentially devastating effects of environmental changes on their livelihoods.
Climate Change is very serious business. Lives are involved and education is key. But this is not an intellectual exercise, so related programs targeting fishermen will have to be attractive enough to convince them to give up a day at sea for.
Climate Change is also still a very difficult concept for most, including US President Trump, who simply denies its existence. In the meantime, man-made disasters are getting worse by the day, including the amount of plastic being consumed by fish as the first line of entry into the human food chain.
The Agriculture and Fisheries minister’s signal that the Saint Lucia Fish Marketing Corporation (SLFMC) is being reorganized to address their needs and that the fishermen will be consulted on issues are welcome steps in the right direction that should be supported and encouraged. (See the official address on this page).
But just as fishermen remain assured that the corporation is obliged to automatically purchase all fish they can land, the required measures also need to be in place to ensure the corporation can pay the cooperatives and fishermen on time.
So, to what extent are we preparing programs for both fishers and consumers regarding the impending crises and survival possibilities?
Frankly, fishing has also become a very fishy business. Not all fishing boats at sea these days are fishing for fish. But the problems haunting real fishers and consumers need to be addressed more seriously today, if fishing is to become an attractive proposition for those thinking of investing in the future.