MIDDLE QUARTERS, St Elizabeth — Shrimp vendors in the tiny village of Middle Quarters, just outside of Black River, say they have been losing income since hundreds of dead shrimp were discovered in sctions of the Elim river in St Elizabeth nearly three weeks ago.
"Mi can't get none shrimp sell. Nobody buying from us. Almost everybody who stop here sey dem not buying any because the shrimp poison," said Sharon Ball, who has been selling shrimp in the small Middle Quarters square for more than two decades.
Ball, who said she has seven children and that shrimp vending is her only source of income, told the Observer West that she was finding it extremely difficult to survive, since the drastic fall- off in sales.
"I used to sell at least 15 pounds of shrimp every day but now mi not selling any," she claimed.
Ball was among a group of about 10 shrimp vendors who complained bitterly to the Observer West on Tuesday about a significant drop in sales since reports surfaced about the shrimp kill.
Residents earlier this month reported the sightings of dead shrimp that were washed up on the Elim river.
The matter was reported to the National Environment Planning Agency (NEPA) who subsequently launched an investigation in the matter.
" The matter was reported to us and so we took water samples as well as shrimp samples and interviewed persons as part of our investigations," a NEPA representative told the Observer West.
But up to yesterday, it was still not clear what had caused the shrimp kill, as the findings of the investigations are yet to be released.
On Tuesday, the vendors made it clear that the shrimp they sell are not harvested from the Elim river.
"The shrimp that wi sell here does not come from that section of the river, dem cum from Slipe, Middle Quarters and Cattadoo so nutten nuh du the one wi selling. Dem a good shrimp," said an irate Keisha Johnson .
She argued that the downturn in sales comes at a time when business for the more than 40 shrimp vendors in the Middle Quarters area is usually brisk.
" This time of the year --when it is coming on to holiday-- wi usually sell nuff shrimp to the many school children who pass here on excursions. But now the buses with the students not stopping here. Dem just pass," she explained.
Pearline Johnson, 70, who said that she has been selling shrimp for more than half a century, argued that due to a lack of customers several vendors have decided to stay home, while others have had to dump their supplies.
"Business never used to stay so. Everything gone down the drain," said another vendor, adding that many of them are single parents.
Media reports of the shrimp kill, they claimed, had prevented people from patronising them.
"We want the propaganda to stop. We want the people to know that the shrimp kill don't have anything to do with our shrimp," said Johnson.
The vendors said fishermen too are being negatively impacted by the slow sales.
" If wi don't sell wi shrimp wi won't be able to buy from the fishermen so dem not making any money too," the vendors say.
Yesterday, Member of Parliament Dr Christopher Tufton appealed to the general public to support the vendors.
"We want to encourage customers to support our shrimp vendors as the river is safe," said Tufton, who is also the outgoing minister of agriculture and fisheries.
"I would also like to urge those who are polluting river to cease and desist and NEPA to speedily conclude investigations and bring those who are responsible to book.