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Fisherfolk protest increased fees at Kingstown Fish Market

Fisherfolk protest increased fees at Kingstown Fish Market

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by Lyf Compton

The Kingstown Fish Market has not made a profit in the last 15 years, and recently, the St Vincent Electricity Services (VINLEC) wrote off an electricity bill of EC$3.5 million. Also, management is in the process of clearing the remainder of an EC$80,000 Central and Water Sewerage Authority (CWSA) bill.

With these issues in mind, the Agricultural Input Warehouse (AIW), the entity that has been running the market since January 2017, has embarked on a mission to make the fish market self-sustaining.

The AIW took over the facility from the Government in January 2017.

But, several of the initiatives being implemented by the AIW are not sitting well with the fish vendors and fisherfolk, and last Wednesday and Thursday, a number of them staged a mini protest outside the market.

On Wednesday, Rosalie Griffith of Barrouallie told SEARCHLIGHT that she has been a vendor at the market since the 1980s and over the last few months, the cost associated with operating at the market seems to be rising every two months.

“Yesterday (the ice) was EC$15 and today is EC$20 and that very hard for us,” said Griffith. 

Explaining how vendors do business, Griffith said that fish vendors buy fish from the fishermen and sell the fish using the stalls in the fish market. She said a vendor may buy a box of ballahoo (Hemiramphus brasiliensis) from a fisherman for EC$20, after which they have to buy a box of ice (for EC$15), pay the market EC$30 to use a stall, buy bags to package the ballahoo and if all the fish is not sold, pay another EC$15 for storage.

According to Griffith, the problem with this mathematics is that one may only gross between $60 and $80 for each box of ballahoo, while expenses may total as much as $85.

She added, “when you have to buy more than one box of ice, you working in vain; you ain’t working for nothing to carry home for your family and we have we family to mind, we have we bills to pay, we have we needs to meet.

“I thought the EC$15 (for the ice) was reasonable. EC$30 for two boxes of ice and EC$30 for the counter and that is EC$60 and plus the storage; so that’s a lot of money for one day alone and if we ain’t get the fish sell, we have to take it back around and that’s payment all over again. That can’t be reasonable for us, because every day we can’t get the fish sell, every day we have to put up and bring out.”

Griffith added that in the past, management would hold meetings and discuss certain things, but that has changed.

“They didn’t call … [a meeting] with this raise to EC$20; they just put the sign. Since I come here, this is the worse time we ever meet, very rough and it hard to make a living from it now. The younger set of persons have to fight real hard to make a living,” opined Griffith.

But in response, senior fisheries officer Ferique Shortte told SEARCHLIGHT on Thursday that it cannot be business as usual at the Kingstown Fish Market if the vendors and fisherfolk want to continue having a place to ply their trade.

“Cabinet recently helped us get an electricity bill written off, so we cannot put ourselves back in that again. As a result, we have to sell the ice to the fishermen and that was not done in the past. The ice to the vendors remains at EC$15, but the ice that is used by the fishermen to ice the fish when it is landed is EC$20. That sale covers some of our cost.

“If a fisherman only needs a small box of ice, we sell that for EC$10 and even at that cost, the ice is still heavily subsidized,” explained Shortte.

He said that a bag of ice is sold to the public for EC$16.25 and the ice that is sold to the vendors for EC$20 is equal to four of the EC$16.25 bags.

“Four of those bags fill a box, so it supposed to be EC$65 if we are to sell the vendors at full price. So that shows how heavily subsidized the price of ice is at the market,” said Shortte. He added that the market also subsidizes ice that is sold to exporters.

“The CWSA bill is being paid. This market has never seen a profit and we started implementing measures last year, so the loss was reduced, and we are working towards making a profit,” added Shortte who revealed that they will soon disclose to workers the intended target for 2018.

The senior fisheries officer said that the persons complaining do not have a sense of the overheads of the market. He said that a lot of money is spent on cleaning agents to keep the market clean, for water to make ice and for electricity, to name a few.

Shortte revealed that as a result of the cleanliness and upkeep of the facility, the market is Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved and is also Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point (HACCP) compliant.

He noted that while vendors are responsible for cleaning the stalls they use, the market does the cleaning and it costs about EC$150 to upkeep one stall daily, but the vendors only pay EC$30 to use it.

“All of this is heavily subsidized for the vendors. We have to purchase cleaning agents by the gallons. Things like chlorine by the buckets. We have to supply all that, garbage bins and bags,” said Shortte.

He added that when the AIW took over the market in January 2017, they later found out that ice was given to the fishermen free of cost, so they decided to charge the fishermen for the ice. He added also that fishermen only have to pay a landing toll if they bring in a catch of over 80 pounds; so, a fisherman can go for the entire week without paying a landing toll.

“Fishermen pay a landing toll depending on the species of fish; 20 cents per pound in some cases and that fee is to cover the cost of operating and maintaining the wharf,” explained Shortte. who added that the market provides trolleys, boxes, tables, scales and water to the fishermen for this minor landing fee.

“If we do not provide that wharf, they will have to land on the rocks and that is hard,” noted Shortte, who added that this week, a fisher landed 6,000 pounds of skipjack tuna.

He added also that in the past, vendors controlled all the stalls, but now the AIW has three stalls that they sell fish from, money that goes towards maintaining the facility.

This is also a problem for the vendors, as according to Shortte, even when there is a glut of a type of fish on the market, the vendors do not lower their prices and when the AIW lowers its price, the vendors accuse them of sabotage.

“For instance, the vendors stay at EC$9 a pound, but they need to reduce when there is a glut, but they don’t. If they lower the price in these instances, they will sell more fish and that will lessen the cost they have in relation to storage and ice. It will also lessen our energy consumption and cost,” said Shortte, noting that vendors occupy 24 stalls in the market.

“Some vendors make upwards of EC$2,500 a day but they still don’t want to pay,” stressed Shortte, who indicated that 200 pounds of dolphin can sell in less than an hour, making a vendor EC$1,800 on that 200 pounds alone, as vendors some times sell multiple species.

“No longer can the market subsidise everything. The market needs to be economically viable. We are also operating in the interest of the fishermen,” added Shortte, who noted that the market pays fishermen upfront for 40 per cent of their catch.

“When the AIW took over, we were supposed to buy 100 per cent of the fish, but it was realized that some vendors owned boats, so we settled for 40 per cent. They get paid straight away and they still make noise to sell to the market, like they don’t want the market to survive. We buy at the same buying cost the vendors do and we are trying to make fish affordable for the common man,” noted Shortte, who opined that fish may seem very expensive to some persons when the alternative is chicken.

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