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Few fish, high prices

By COREY CONNELLY Sunday, February 24 2013

click on pic to zoom in
Fishermen Sieunarine Ramcharan, left, Romauld Adolphus, centre, and Kent Rajkumar, relax in a 28-foot pirogue on the beachfront at Ortoire on Wednesda...
Fishermen Sieunarine Ramcharan, left, Romauld Adolphus, centre, and Kent Rajkumar, relax in a 28-foot pirogue on the beachfront at Ortoire on Wednesda...

A dwindling supply of fish, ongoing seismic activity at sea and the heavy turbulence - normally experienced during the first quarter of the year - have contributed to the steep fish prices during this Lenten season, some fishermen contend.

“The seas are very, very rough most of the time and the fish is little to hold. This causes most of the high prices,” said veteran fisherman Lennox Chapman during a Sunday Newsday interview on Wednesday at his home in Nariva Road, Manzanilla.

“It still have brave men who does go out and face it but the seas are really rough.”

With over 40 years in the industry, Chapman, 53, who lives a stone’s throw away from the Manzanilla Beach, said he began fishing as a little boy on the beach and has never turned back.

“I love fishing. It is an easy way of life. You just throw your net and hold your fish,” he said.

Over the years, though, Chapman has observed that fish prices always seem to skyrocket during what he called the post-Carnival/pre-Easter period.

“It is not enough for the market and fish prices will always go up when there is a little bit, and when there is a glut the price goes down,” he said.

He also contended that offshore drilling activity, along the eastern seaboard, and other parts of the country, has also contributed to a reduced fish stock.

“When that thing hits the ocean floor, them fish must run scared all over the place,” he declared.

Noting that Manzanilla was a bonafide fishing destination with about 12 boats and 24 fishermen, Chapman lamented that the community did not have a full-fledged fishing depot and washroom facilities for its fisherfolk. He recalled that before Christmas, Cumuto/Manzanilla MP Collin Partap had promised the fishermen that work would have begun on the depot in four months time. To date, he said, nothing has happened. He said once constructed, people can come directly to the depot to purchase fish as opposed to buying from vendors who may impose severe mark- ups on the commodity. Fish, a traditional Lenten staple, is currently being sold at between $60 and $100 a pound - a spike some fishermen have attributed to piracy and pollution, especially on the south and west coasts. Fishermen in Ortoire, for one, are not condemning the high fish prices.

“You hardly catching fish. Sometimes you have to go out there for three to four days and not getting nothing and you have to spend money on gas,” said Sieunarine Ramcharan, a member of the Guayaguayare/Ortoire/Mayaro Fishing Association, who sat in a pirogue with three of his fellow fishermen, waiting to return to sea for an afternoon catch. They had set transparent nets earlier that day and were hoping for a hefty catch.

The men, who normally sell their fish in nearby Plaisance and Mayaro, told Sunday Newsday that Carite and King Fish usually sell for about $30 a pound while Salmon and Moonshine sells for $17 a pound and $5 a pound, respectively.

“People should not complain about the prices,” said Ramcharan, chastising a Tobago fisherfolk who, in a media report last week, accused her Trinidadian counterparts of taking advantage of consumers during this Lenten season and charging exorbitant prices for their fish.

Ramcharan’s colleague, Romauld Adolphus, who has been in the business for 25 years, said the increasing cost of fishing equipment compounded the problem of high fish prices.

“Look a fishing engine is about $30,000 and two Fridays ago I lost one, which was second hand, for about $15,000,” he said. “A normal net is about $20,000 and Bp (British Petroleum) boats does be cutting them nets like nothing and sometimes we have to get new ones.”

The fishermen claimed that offshore drilling in the area had also caused the fishing stock to dwindle considerably. In fact, they feared that the fishing industry in the area will be non-existent within the next few years because of the extensive activity. Environmental activist Gary Aboud, secretary of the non-governmental group, Fishermen and Friends of the Sea, also raised serious concerns about the impact of offshore drilling and seismic activity on an already depleting fish stock.

“This is causing a new type of fishing decline and there is no system of protecting the biological diversity of the ocean,”Aboud said in an interview, calling for legislation to be brought to the Parliament to comprehensively address the fishing industry. Aboud said members of his organisation had met with Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj last Monday, who assured that a committee will be set up to meet with stakeholders for a series of consultations to examine the implications of seismic activity on the fish stock.

“There has to be a different environmental legislation to mitigate the impact and should include some type of protection for fishermen. Seismic surveys by these energy companies are not treated as a serious environmental concern and it requires consultation for the impact to be minimised,” he said.

Aboud claimed the Ministry of Energy usually sent its proposals to the Environmental Management Authority for rubber-stamping “without public consultation, regulation or standard.”

“But seismic activity causes the fish to stampede and they all go in a straight formation 25 km out of the zone without stopping. It is like exploding torpedos and blows the ears out of the fish,” he said.

Aboud also said human action has also led to the decimation of the species

“Year after year, there is one impact after another, such as human sewerage, and of a domestic nature in shampoo and oil cans,” he said.

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