‘Thank God fi seaside’
Old Harbour Bay fishers uncertain about future
KAREN Miller has been able to school her children, the eldest of whom is now enrolled in university, with money earned from plying the wares of the sea. So has Una Harrison, a man identified only as 'mice' and numerous other residents of Old Harbour Bay in St Catherine.
But they are now more worried than ever that once the planned port is built at Goat Islands as part of the logistics hub it will bring an end to their livelihoods as fishermen and fish vendors.
That was the concern that featured most prominently during a spirited public meeting held in the community recently. It was organised by the Jamaica Environment Trust and Caribbean Coastal Area Management Foundation which manages the Portland Bight Protected Area in which Goat Islands fall, and was intended to inform residents about the planned port and its possible implications for them.
The meeting was branded 'Old Harbour Bay: Have your Say' and featured presentations from C-CAM's Brandon Hay and JET's legal officer Danielle Andrade.
"As a mother of seven, yes mi agree seh ah nuh nobody sen mi go get seven pickney, but at least mi can go seaside. A dat mi use fi send dem go school and right now mi son deh ah UWI," Miller said during the question and answer segment.
"Most a dem weh say dem have education, where dem get it from? Their parents or third or fourth parents were fishermen and fisherwomen at this seaside...Mi can hardly spell my name but mi thank God fi seaside because without it mi nuh know where I would be today. Mi give thanks fi it cause mi pickney dem can still live and still go school. Nuh tek dat from mi and the 3,000 other people who depend pon di seaside," she added.
She was ostensibly pleading with Government which last month outlined in Parliament some aspects of its plans to build a trans-shipment port on Goat Islands which is in close proximity to Old Harbour Bay, home to a thriving fishing village. Among the concerns are that the activities related to the building and operation of the port will decimate the Special Fisheries Conservation Areas where juvenile fish develop, thus potentially wiping out the trade of fishing in that area.
"I have four kids, two in high school and two in primary school. I I stop fishing now I don't have anymore job so I want to know what prosperity or what disaster we going to face," said 'Mice', who indicated that while he wasn't born in Old Harbour Bay, that's where he fishes.
"A silver fish mek my sister turn nurse. A silver fish mek my sister turn bank manager," said a dreadlocked man everybody calls 'Penko'. "When yuh mek di small man deh nuh get no fish weh wi ago do? Wi ago start kill people and eat dem?"
It was a similar story for Una Harrison.
"Mi have six children and ah pon seaside mi raise dem until my first daughter
deh ah United States of America [now]. A me one raise dem and ah fish mi raise dem outta," she told the Jamaica Observer, adding that fish vending provided both food and money for school.
Jermaine Thomas argued that when the seas are rough, Goat Islands provide a safe haven for many fishers.
"If we lose Goat Islands it's gonna have a big impact on fisherman because I fish near Goat Islands and many a time when breeze ah blow we cannot go to certain part of the sea and we have to go near Goat Islands," he said.
Another fisherman told the Observer that he, too, sets pots all around Goat Islands so any port development there will negatively impact his livelihood.
"Wi have pickney, gran pickney and wi have bills fi pay," he said. "Dem say what is joke to you is death to me," he added, reciting a proverb.
But not everybody felt the same way. For one, resident Compton Campbell maintained that there were "very few fish close to Goat Islands" so the effect of a port on fishers would be negligible. Secondly, attorney-at-law Kes Miller said it was premature for people to be taking decisions against the port development in the absence of detailed information.
"A development is being proposed and it can help Old Harbour Bay and it can have negative effects, so we have to think and balance the two. It can't be 'no development'.What we need to do as a people is prepare ourselves so that we can cash in on whatever comes," he said.
He conceded that information on the plans were lacking, but said the
community meeting was a step in
the right direction since it provided some information that the majority of residents didn't previously know.
"To come now and say you don't want it is bit premature. My vision for Old Harbour Bay is [for it] to be developed into a port community to lift the standards of the people," he said.
His views, however, attracted the ire of the group, with sections shouting "Ah sell yuh ah sell out yah so!", "Wi nuh want dem yah!", and "Ah sea sen you go ah school!" Then came the boos.
Some 4,000 fishers use the Portland Bight Protected Area which features three fisheries conservation areas.