By Kaygianna Charlery – Operations Manager of Goodwill Fishermen’s Cooperative
Yesterday, October 30 2020, the PM announced in his closing remarks at a Covid19 update to the nation that Fishing Vessel licenses would be suspended for one week starting November 2 2020.
Imagine the reaction and shock of the sector to that news.
In April of this year amidst the chaos and the implementation of a curfew, agitation and representation was made to the Minister Hon Ezekiel Joseph in behalf of the fishers which led to consultation with the Department of Fisheries, community based Fisherfolk organizations and the umbrella body, St Lucia Fisherfolk Society Limited.
Based on that consultation it was agreed that Fishers could venture out to sea even within the curfew but contact the Lighthouse with their vessel and crew information.
Fast forward to October 30 2020 and its announced that there will be a suspension of licenses mere seventy two (72) hours later.
We are calling on the authorities to rethink this move at the soonest. We do not support the illegal entry of persons into our ports and we play or part to reduce the spread of Covid19 by encouraging our members to wear their masks, social distancing, etc.
However, in this current climate when the economic situation is dire for everyone, it’s difficult to accept that most other sectors of the economy remain open, even external entry points remain open, yet fishermen are to remain at ground zero.
These are the same Fishermen who were made to believe that $900 fuel vouchers were distributed to their respective Fisher Cooperatives on their behalf, yet to date have received no support from central government.
All this in the Covid19 period has been added to what had become an already ailing industry as a result of what has become known as the privatisation of the lone fish marketing entity.
At a time when the government has recognised that this battle is two fold and that the economy has to be managed in parallel with the health crisis, we ask why.
Why are the hotels, supermarkets, utility companies, bars, and many other businesses which partake in economic activity allowed to open albeit with restrictions, yet the fishers are castigated one more time?
Goodwill Fishermen’s Cooperative stands in solidarity with the fishers, with the fishing industry, with the many families and tables who depend on the catch of, or revenue generated from the toil of the Fishers for mere survival, as really there’s nothing more until this thing boils over.
In so doing, we are urging the authorities to rethink this week long suspension. We propose the following:
- A shorter work day for the fishers. Whereas some normally venture out to sea in the wee hours of the morning, an alternative could be to establish a later time when surveillance and accountability would be easier
- Reestablish and reinforce the procedures for exit and entry from the ports.
We are confident that the authorities will take the best interest of the fishers to heart whilst not compromising the efforts to curb and halt the spread of Covid19 and at the same time preserving the economy.