Hellshire's pain!

Hellshire's pain!

Fishermen, business operators reeling from COVID-19 beach restrictions hoping for reopening

Observer staff reporter

Saturday, September 19, 2020

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Business operators and fishermen at the Hellshire Fishing Beach in St Catherine, have fallen on hard times since COVID-related restrictions were implemented at the popular food and recreation spot. Some are hoping they will be allowed to reopen soon, even as the Government tries to control the spread of the virus.

“The co-operative is reaching out [to Minister of Local Government Desmond McKenzie] to hear what is the position, because we at Half Moon Bay have met 90 per cent of the protocols and we would like the beach to reopen,” said chairman of the fishermen's Co-operative Christopher Brown. He argued that since the closure order, measures have been put in place to mitigate crowding. Brown also rejected reports of a football competition with more than 800 people during the period the beach was allowed to open after its initial shutdown in March.

The distress of those whose businesses are now reeling from months of inactivity was palpable when the Jamaica Observer visited the beach Thursday. Restaurant owners, fishermen and others who earn a living on the beach listed their tales of woe.

Members of the co-operative who spoke with the Observer said that the Government order, which came in August, to cease all recreational activities on the beach led to an automatic stall in business.

The co-operative's Brown said his members have lost hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales since then, with water and electricity bills still coming in.

“When they closed the beach we had certain amount of fish and goods that we have to keep refrigerated. Now that the business slow up, wi lose whole heap,” he explained, brandishing an electronic Jamaica Public Service (JPS) bill for $43,000 for his restaurant and bar.

Brown said the business was his only means of supplementing his livelihood as a fisherman, but with the usually high volume of patrons slowed to a trickle, all sources of income and their savings have begun to dry up.

“The influx of people reduce and the bills still coming. Not just for me. Everybody on the beach feeling it right now, and with the business slow up, some of us savings affected big time,” he said.

He noted that since the closure of the beach, members of the co-operative have been meeting with the Social Development Commission to keep abreast of the Government's plans for the beach.

However, at this point, Brown said fishermen are desperately waiting to hear when they will be allowed to resume full operations.

For restaurant operators, the impact of the pandemic on sales has forced some to close shop, while others have pivoted to call-in and take-out orders. Even so, many who spoke with the Observer said their businesses have taken a massive hit.

“Hellshire never stay like this before,” said Cobroy, a restaurant owner who was among the few who managed to keep his business open with the support of loyal customers who order take-out.

“I have been here for over 50 years and is the first I'm seeing this. We never face nothing like this in our lifetime at Hellshire. Business gone down.

“Most of my customers just call in and them come pick it up and leave again. That is the only reason why I don't close the shop. But from them say the beach fi close down, we here suffering and looking to see a one customer come in,” said Cobroy.

The same was true for 32-year-old restaurant operator and mother of three, Natasha Thompson, who, unlike Cobroy, had to close her doors after the restriction order in August.

“Things very, very bad. We wish it could better but it terrible for everybody; worse back-to-school coming up. Wi nuh have nutten. Swimming is not allowed and people are scared to come, so business not going on,” the young woman said.

“I had to close and nobody come and compensate us. I don't know what can happen for us but I think things could be better,” she said.

Over at Lobster Belly Seafood Restaurant, owner Othneil Edwards said, “Wi under pressure and wi a feel it.”

According to Edwards, the majority of shop owners are without electricity because of the sharp downturn in sales.

“When COVID just start we had to close and plug out all fridges. And after that I get a light bill from JPS for $29,000 despite everything plug out,” charged Edwards

The negative impact of the pandemic has also eroded the livelihoods of entrepreneurs and informal workers who rely on the business operators on the beach.

For 56-year-old handyman Sydney Osbourne, who usually makes a living sweeping the beach and washing dishes, selling bottles is what he has had to resort to in an effort to feed his two children at home.

“Mi work here so with the boss and mi can't get anything because nothing nah gwan. If you look around the place, there is nobody. Right now I'm in debt because I have to borrow money so that I can make them eat,” said Osbourne who has been earning his livelihood on the beach for more than 20 years.

“This alone mi have fi send them go school. Everything mi have in life is my work on this beach give me. But when the lockdown start, everything dead,” added Osbourne.

Dennis, a merchandiser who supplies goods to the shops on the beach, said his source of income has also dried up. “Mi nah mek no money because, based on the situation, no customers not coming here to buy anything, so mi can't make no sale. Is only through my little savings why I am surviving and keeping the business going.”

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