BY INGRID BROWN Associate editor — special assignment firstname.lastname@example.org
THE livelihood of fisherfolk who once did thriving business at the Rocky Point fishing beach in St Thomas has been severely undermined as the facility, which was damaged by Hurricane Ivan in 2004, still largely lies in ruins.
To make matters worse, there is no electricity or piped water there, which fishermen said has driven away many of their regular customers who would either dine at one of the seaside eateries or purchase from the day's catch. The lack of electricity also poses a danger for fishers while at sea because, since there is no lighthouse, they previously relied on the light on the beach to guide them back to shore.
"Now that we don't have any light to help us at night we just have to come in at our own risk," said fisherman Webster Thomas.
Two years ago the European Union stepped in to assist, and built a storage house for the fishermen's catch. But it is not being used, as, even if there were a refrigerator, there woud be no current with which to power it. The storage facility's restrooms have also been rendered useless as a result of the lack of water.
When the Jamaica Observer North East visited the beach, situated in the sleepy farming community of Rocky Point, the fishermen who have remained loyal to the trade — about 30 — were sharing the day's catch amongst themselves. There were no customers in sight.
They explained that Hurricane Ivan had dealt the beach a heavy blow, and that the facility fell into further ruin following the death of one of their members who was the first to set up a restaurant on the beach.
"Is Ivan mash up di place and mek the sea come in so far come tek weh so much of di land," said Mark Berclan, another fisherman, pointing to a partially submerged building, which he said once housed fishing gear.
Several other buildings, the fisherfolk said, were also damaged at the time because the sea claimed a major portion of the land.
With the death of banana and sugar cane production in the parish, residents of Rocky Point have expressed fear that fishing could follow a similar fate if nothing is done soon. Already, the fisherfolk say they are being squeezed out of the industry by the excessively high price of gasoline and fishing equipment, as well as an increase in piracy.
Carlton Britton, a police officer who also dabbles in fishing, said their fish pots, which cost as much as $20,000 for a set of five, are often stolen.
"Quite a few people give it up already, especially after the rules changed that require us to use 1 1/2-inch net instead of the usual 1 1/4," he said.
But things weren't always like this. Despite not being as popular as the beach of the same name in Clarendon, the fisherfolk remember a time when Rocky Point, St Thomas was a booming and popular fishing beach which attracted visitors from all over the island.
"When here was booming, people used to come sit down and eat fish all midnight," Britton said.
With very few customers now, the restaurant operators can only provide meals on a done-to-order basis.
Operator of one such eatery, Ann-Marie Evans said business is very slow and may cease all together if help doesn't come soon.
"The electricity is the main issue because we have to pack up and go home early because we have no light," she told the Observer North East.
In the earlier days, she said, only one man operated a restaurant on the beach and he was able to get electricity to his establishment. After his passing a few years ago, other persons set up eateries, but they have been unable to get the relevant authorities to install electricity.
"If we have light down here and business place running, people would be here late and feel safe," she said.
She believes that if the beach is developed it would help to attract tourists to the eastern parish. The fisherfolk said they would like for either Government or the private sector to take up the task and save the the beach, which they claim is among the best in the island. Residents, too, said they want the beach to be promoted so it can be recognised among the more popular fishing spots in Jamaica.
"I went to get a licence at (Ministry of Agriculture and) Fisheries and they didn't know about a beach call Rocky Point in St Thomas because they only knew about Rocky Point in Clarendon and they, of all, should know about us," said one fisherman.