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Bequia fishers call for new markets

Bequia fishers call for new markets

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Fisherfolk of Paget Farm, Bequia, say they are in dire need of new markets for their fish, especially since a ban was imposed on the export of fish to Martinique, which is a member of the European Union.{{more}}

However, a businessman involved in the export of fish is calling on fisherfolk to lift their game to better enable fish from this country to compete on the regional market.

SEARCHLIGHT visited Paget Farm last Saturday and spoke with fisherfolk who explained that life has been hard since the export of fish from St Vincent and the Grenadines to Martinique came to a screeching halt back in 2000.

“Life in general has been difficult; maintaining a family and having the responsibility of paying bills – it has become very hard,” Oswald Nichols, fisher told SEARCHLIGHT.

“We used to come, sell we fish, but now we can’t even sell it, we bumming on the street,” he said.

“If the fish selling everyday, we could ah have ah money…now you can’t,” Nichols continued.

“Sometimes our light (electricity) bill gets cut off and when you get money is just bills,” he said, adding that his situation is more complicated because he has to provide for three school-aged children.

According to Nichols, when their fish had access to the EU market, “things used to be good.”

“The money did running, the family did eating well.”

But now he worries that when the lobster season ends on April 30, it will be another six months of struggle.

Markets for lobster currently exist in Barbados and for conch, in other parts of the region, including the United States, but Nichols said that even with lobsters, it is often difficult to get produce sold.

“It is very hard for me and even the crew that works with me,” Winston Peters said.

Even supplying fish to the mainland is difficult, he explained, because of the high price of gas.

“When you go up and come back the little you get, you have to decide amongst the crew if to buy gas and then wait for another day, to put something in your pocket,” he said.

Peters told SEARCHLIGHT that things have been so bad, that his engine has been down since January, but he has not yet been able to purchase a new one.

“So it is very difficult if we could get back any market to buy anything, it will help us,” he said.

Another fisherman, Linton Ragguette, laments that an arrangement they had with a businessman to export to Grenada, fish, which was then exported to Martinique, came to an end last year.

Businessman Ulrick “Aloe” Raguette explained however that establishing a market for fish is complicated.

He too had provided a market for the Bequia fisherfolk in St Lucia, but had to get out of the business.

Explaining the process involved in exporting fish, Raguette said that restrictions are often placed on the amount of fish that can be exported to another country, by the importing country.

According to Raguette, a maximum of 2,000 kilograms of fish can be exported to Martinique every fortnight, or sometimes that market would make a request for 1,000 kilograms, only.

“But that amount is a waste of time,” he said, explaining that after fuel and paying a crew, it was not worth it.

It was issues like this, he said, that pressured businessmen to get out of the business.

Raguette explained that in his case, he had to contact a vessel from Petit Martinique to take fish over to St Lucia, as he often got into trouble with the officials there for selling fish without a health certificate.

Receiving payment for produce delivered was also a problem.

He said one year ago, he took some 300 lobster tails to Barbados and is yet to get back his ice boxes and payment.

There was another case of a St Lucian who bought some conch, but according to Raguette, he has not seen any sign of that vessel.

“If I see the money now that I credit out, I retire,” he said, adding that for those who still are in business, they do it for the love of it.

The other issue according to Raguette, is that some of the fisher folk are of the opinion that businessmen made huge profits.

This, he refuted, saying that he would often pay EC$12 per kilogram to the locals and end up selling fish in St Lucia for $7 per pound.

One kilogram is approximately two pounds.

The problem of non-payment does not just occur overseas; it also happens when fisher folk from Bequia journey to the mainland to sell their produce, Raguette explained.

Competition from other countries was also cited as one of the challenges in the industry, Raguette told SEARCHLIGHT.

He said that Martinique was receiving fish from countries like Brazil and Suriname and most often, the fish is cleaned, cut and in some instances already packaged.

“The house maids will love that, you just go pick up a pack, go home and cook,” he explained.

“This is what is happening, there is a competitive market out there and we can no longer compete,” Raguette reasoned.

Instead, the local fisher folk were stuck in the trends he said.

He says that he has been advocating for some time that this country moves away from the EU and search for new markets.

“Until now we are trying to get back into the EU market, but after 12 years, things have changed,” Raguette said.

Jennifer Cruickshank-Howard, Chief Fisheries Officer, agreed with the point made by Raguette that fisher folk needed to step up their game saying that they have been meeting with them over the years and have addressed the very issue.

“They have to see their operation as a business and this is something being discussed over a number of years now,” Howard said.

She however acknowledged that consumers have been spending less on fish.(DD)

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