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Fisherfolk outside red, orange zones cry out for income support

Covid making life hard for fisherfolk

Fisherfolk outside red, orange zones cry out for income support
Left to Right: Winsbert Harry, the president of the National Fisherfolk Organisation, Amos ‘Selassie’ Phillips & Verrol Williams

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Fisherfolk spanning areas in the yellow and green zones in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG), feel neglected by government, after no allocations for income support was made for them to offset the fallout’s caused by this year’s volcanic eruption.

Fisherfolk are set to receive production support following the recent passage of a Supplementary Budget, approved by lawmakers to assist with the challenges caused as a result of the eruptions.

But Winsbert Harry, the president of the National Fisherfolk Organisation, made a case this week for fishermen outside of the red and orange zones to receive income support, citing several issues that have plagued the industry since the COVID19 pandemic hit SVG.

“When COVID hit, the fishing industry and fisherfolk start to see a low income coming into their pocket, because we heavily depend on the hotels…everything was closed down so we couldn’t do business as usual. We were affected and in being affected, we were trying our best to see how we could make an income…,” Harry told SEARCHLIGHT on Wednesday evening.

He noted that funds were disbursed to “farmers, street vendors, for the whole nation, even the guy who pushing a cart, and the fisherfolk were excluded out of that so we didn’t get any income support from COVID, although we were being affected through COVID times just like everyone else in St Vincent and the Grenadines”.

He said fishers at this time feel left out and it seems as though persons did not recognise the fishing industry.
This feeling also prevailed when fisherfolk in some parts of the yellow and green zones discovered that they would not receive income support following La Soufriere’s eruptions.

“Not everybody goes in a boat to fish. The industry is broader than people going in a boat to fish. The Kingstown fish market was closed for at least two weeks.

There was no business in Kingstown at least for the first two weeks during the eruption of the volcano. The place had too much dust. Some fishers had to donate fish to the shelters because they couldn’t get them sold…,” the National Fisherfolk Organisation president said.

Harry said fishermen had to bear the brunt of the volcanic eruption fallout in this time, as ash significantly affected the sale of fish for some time because the area was not clean enough to facilitate the sale of their catch.

He added that “The guys who do beach seine, they couldn’t see the bottom of the water because the water was murky and dirty, so they couldn’t make an income. Some of the guys even from Calliaqua, we normally fish into the red zone, but we couldn’t go up into the red zone to fish because we had to follow the procedure coming from the scientists…”

The northern part of the island is frequented by fisherfolk who haul their catch of red snapper and dolphins. Others also drop lobster pots in the area.

Harry, who is also the deputy chairman of the Caribbean Network of Fisherfolk Organisation, said that after being left out, fisherfolk are neither happy nor pleased with the situation.

Under the near EC$118 million Supplementary Budget passed in Parliament in May to assist with fallout’s from the volcanic eruption, roughly 10.5 million is allocated to providing at least 3000 farmers in the red and orange zones with a payment of $500 for seven months.

A further allocation of $3.8 million is also made for more than 7000 farmers in the green and yellow zones to receive a one-off payment of $500.

Income support to the tune of $4.5 million will be disbursed to approximately 3,750 non-farmers in the red and orange zones at $400 per month, for three months.

The Supplementary Budget also has provision to the tune of $4 million for general agriculture production support.

This encompasses seeds and plant material; artificial insemination supplies; livestock; ploughing/tilling/field clearing; farmers’ tools and equipment; fishers’ equipment and supplies and water tanks and irrigation.

A further $1.5 million was also allocated for individual agriculture production support specifically in the red and orange zones.

But Harry told SEARCHLIGHT that the production support will mostly benefit fishers who own boats, and not necessarily the individual fisherman.

Rose Place fisherman, Verrol Williams told SEARCHLIGHT that fishermen are represented under the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries, Rural Transportation, Industry and Labour, yet he feels neglected, having not received any income support in the same way that farmers have.

“We have to pay market fees there and landing toll…if we ask for piece of ice, they don’t give the ice free. We have to buy the piece of ice to ice the bait to go the next morning to catch fish, and these people and them treating fishermen like dogs,” he complained.

Williams said he has been a fisherman for most of his adult life and uses the income to support himself.

However, he has faced challenges as a result of the COVID19 pandemic, and even more because of La Soufriere’s eruption.

The fisherman added that he is past retirement age, and like most fishermen, do not make contributions to the National Insurance Services, which means that he does not receive a pension.

His only form of income is fishing.

“I find they don’t treating we nice here…they’re supposed to give everybody a little crumbs for they eat. But some eating and some don’t eat,” Williams said.

Amos ‘Selassie’ Phillips told SEARCHLIGHT he was one of the first fishermen to travel to the northern part of the island to fish after the volcanic eruption, despite warnings against it because of volcanic hazards.

“When they say don’t go up, I say me ain’t studying nobody. The government doh giving me nothing. I geh my bills to pay, children to mind. I tek my boat and I go. Man say I is a mad man…,” the Frenches resident said.

Like Williams, he noted that farmers received support from the government both as a result of the pandemic and the volcanic eruption ,while there was “nothing for the fishermen”.

The 60-year-old said he has been fishing since he was 13 years old, and has faced a lot of problems, just like people in the other hazard zones.

“Man have their bills to pay. Man borrow loan, have to pay back for their boat, and when the market close and you can’t go fishing, that’s a problem. That’s a big, big problem there because you geh your loan to pay back, you geh your children them to support…come like you working, you lose your work and you get no income to pay your bills. You have to try struggle somewhere else to see if you get an income…,” Phillips said.

The National Fisherfolk Organisation intends to seek an audience with the Prime Minister to discuss the matter and make a case for why fishermen in parts of the yellow and green zones should also be included in the disbursement of income support.