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Tribute to Kerwyn Morris

Tribute to Kerwyn Morris

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TO KERWYN MORRIS (1939 – 2007)
Fisheries Officer 1981 – 1987
Chief Fisheries Officer 1987 – 2000

Prepared by the Staff of the Fisheries Division, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry & Fisheries

It is difficult to find enough time, space and words to describe Kerwyn Morris, his contribution to the fisheries sector and his profound influence on his staff and colleagues, in his capacity as Fisheries Officer and later, Chief Fisheries Officer.

Mr. Morris had a great vision for the fisheries sector. He lobbied and worked hard to obtain increased human, financial and technical capacity to develop the fishing industry and its stakeholders. He tried to dispel negative perceptions associated with the fishing industry and sought recognition for the entire sector. He was of the firm belief that the fisheries sector had the potential to become a major revenue earner and that it was essential to have trained personnel at all levels, using the best available scientific and technical tools to realize this potential.{{more}}

As a fisheries manager, he was way ahead of his time, practising much of what experts now vehemently purport. For example, he believed in multi-species management and the sustainable utilisation of marine resources; practices that are now recognised as central to effective fisheries management and which are strongly prescribed by regional and international organisations.

Mr. Morris sought to develop all aspects of the fisheries sector, including the fleet, infrastructure, harvesting and post-harvesting techniques, marketing, research, conservation, data management, extension, training, communications, monitoring and surveillance, enforcement services and all associated personnel. He supported fishers’ organisations, in particular the Goodwill Fisherman’s Co-op., which he helped establish a gas station at Rose Place. Although he began work with the Fisheries Division in 1981, it is not surprising that he was one of the pioneers of Fisherman’s Day celebrations which began in 1976. His famous slogan “After Breast, Fish is Best” is etched in many a memory.

Mr. Morris was adamant about the need to transform the fishing fleet from small artisanal vessels, with inadequate gear and methods, into larger vessels that would take pressure off vulnerable coastal resources and capitalize on the relatively underexploited deep slope and offshore fisheries. To this end, Mr. Morris spearheaded the project to introduce five Japanese-sponsored longline fishing vessels to St. Vincent and the Grenadines and insisted that one of these be retained by the Fisheries Division as a research vessel.

He was very possessive about the waters around the country and worked with the Coast Guard and regional bodies to carry out surveillance exercises. During his time, a number of illegal foreign fishing vessels were caught and apprehended. As Chief Fisheries Officer, he was the St. Vincent and the Grenadines Deputy Whaling Commissioner for a number of years and defended the country’s right to practice aboriginal subsistence whaling.

Morris was of the opinion that Vincentians did not fully realize the nutritional value of seafood and laid the foundation for research in the field of product development. Trials of locally made salted shark, whale bacon, smoked fish, canned tuna, among other experiments, were all carried out in his time. He promoted the idea that fisheries topics should be part of the school curriculum and facilitated the Division’s on-going marine education programme for schools.

Morris had a good grasp of the many challenges faced by a small country trying to develop its fishing industry with insufficient resources. To help meet these challenges, he worked with the Government to upgrade the infrastructure and facilities for fishers in Kingstown, Bequia, Union Island, Canouan, Calliaqua, Barrouallie and Chateaubelair. He believed that highly skilled and well-trained fishers formed the nucleus of a vibrant fishing industry and sought training for them at local, regional and international levels. He was especially persistent in trying to get fishers trained in the use of modern fishing equipment such as fish finders, communication and navigation systems, including the use of GPS, for more efficient fishing operations.

Mr. Morris was convinced that a well-equipped fishing fleet and well-managed industry could only be achieved by competent and appropriately trained personnel. He promoted the idea that fisheries was professional business and despised the notion that it was for persons with lower levels of education. To combat this misguided view he encouraged his staff to pursue higher education in various fisheries topics, making the Fisheries Division staff among the most highly qualified in the public sector.

He insisted that all new technical employees be trained in scuba diving, boat navigation and the use of fishing gear. Fishing trips with fishers and the research vessel were mandatory for these employees. He believed that while specialization was essential to the development of the Division, a level of generalization was also necessary. He wanted staff members to have a good handle on all fisheries activities and be able to represent the Division at any meeting. This style of management is today practised by many human resource managers who value multi-faceted individuals and promote multi-disciplinary training.

Mr. Morris was a shrewd manager and one who never competed with his staff. He wanted to see each staff member excel in his chosen specialization and fostered a sense of belonging, achievement and recognition that resulted in confident, ambitious, productive and empowered individuals. He embraced initiative and frowned on complacency. He believed in the potential of his staff and delegated responsibilities even amidst complaints that he was sending junior members of staff to meetings which called for higher level officers. In his wisdom he knew that when he left Fisheries, these would be the same officers to carry on the work.

The Fisheries Division, Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries extends sincerest condolences to the family, friends and colleagues of Kerwyn Morris. May he rest in peace.

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