Making a success of fishing with personal sacrifice
St Thomas fisherman Arvel Ellis sells fish caught in three boats. His business is over 30 years old.

Arvel Ellis, a fisherman from St Thomas, has been running this business for 37 years and has made a success of it. A resident of Port Morant in St Thomas, he operates in Morant Cay, fishing both inland and offshore. He told the Jamaica Observer, "I go as far as 84 miles offshore to a place called Salmon's Bank."

From his catch he sells fish, lobster, and conch with his most in-demand product locally being snapper. The fisherman sells from the beach in Port Morant and adds, "I [also] use a car and go through the villages; I sell to vendors and I sell housewives. I even carry fish to Kingston. I weigh, clean up, tag, and do delivery."

Overall, Ellis employs six individuals in this enterprise. He earns additional money from cooking and catering, providing cooked meals for funerals, weddings, picnics, cookouts, drink outs, among other events." Some of his customers come from as far as Old Harbour, [St Catherine], and Clarendon.

Arvel Ellis is the owner of three 28-foot fiberglass boats. Two have 40-60 horsepower engines and the other has a 75 horsepower Yamaha engine. All boats are licensed and registered every year.

Ellis said he started fishing after he dropped out of school and had no alternatives.

"During my school days, I used to go to the river… and when we came from school we would do small fishing. When I dropped out of school, I went to the older set of people who did fishing and one day a nephew of mine said, 'Buju [his nickname], you can buy an engine and boat and we can fish together.' "

That was how he started. Growing the businesses since then has involved many personal sacrifices. The fisherman recalled, "I went to sea with other fishermen, and my little [savings], I started to put it aside. I went barefeet and hungry at times and didn't have a girlfriend because I couldn't maintain one... I threw 'pardna' and when I got the money, I bought an engine first and then I started to rent a boat from a man till I end up buying the same boat. After buying the same boat, I moved on to Morant Cay, where I used to live, to do some fishing."

"Living there was not that comfortable at all, so I had to come back down and I do a little here and a little there, and a little luck came my way and I got a visa and go to America, and from up there to down here that's how I backup the fishing and improve the business."

Eventually, Ellis secured more consistent financing from JN Small Business, which has become the anchor of his enterprise.

"I needed to expand it a little bigger, and so I draw on JN, that's the JN Small Business Loan (SBL), and those loans helped me greatly." Ellis has received four business loans from JN Bank SBL, which he used to purchase equipment for his trade and has successfully repaired them.

The fisherman shared, "The first time was a little bit before COVID, and then a little bit during COVID and after that again, and I try to pay them off as fast as possible."

The COVID-19 pandemic introduced lockdowns, which affected his operation. Ellis says, "Fish were being caught, but I couldn't get to sell them because of the lockdown situation. Nobody couldn't come to buy. As a fisherman I could go, because I had my documents, and I could linger on the roadside a little, but who was buying it? So it kind of held me back, but I fought through it."

"During that time I threw pardna. It was as helpful as the loan [from JN]. I would throw three hands, and when I get the draw I would use it to finance the business and pay the loan, pay the guys who go sea with me and keep the business up."

This was also his source of funding for gasoline, the stale bread used in the pots, and servicing the engines.

Ellis believes that his business has been sustained due to the quality of product offered. "My competitive advantage is that the fish are fresh, just coming from the ocean, and they are cleaned up properly."

"I am also special because I can tell you what you need if you tell me what the fish is for. For instance, if somebody says, 'I'm going to have a fish fry,' I will say, 'Can you tell me how much you're going to sell a ticket for?' And I will know the size of the fish that you want. And I will tell you, 'I don't have that now, but I will get it in a certain time.

"If you want the order, you can call me back and I will prepare it for you.' If you tell me it is a dead yard [funeral], I will know the size that you want, I just do it like that. So people just tell people you can call this number, I know this man, he can do fish and that's how it spreads with me. No other fisherman around me has it like that."

"I don't catch the little fish, and if I catch the lobster that is pregnant, I toss them back overboard."

The fisherman shared, "When the time is good, business is good. Another time you go, you don't make a penny, you have to go back and look for different ways to buy gasoline to go back [to work].

"Some of the times the fish are not moving, none at all, they are there but they just are not going in any [trap], it's just not their time. It's a season [seasonal] business, so you have to know when is the good time to follow them up and you put it to use, and when the bad time comes, you just sit back, build enough traps, and set up the things until the good time comes."

The entrepreneur notes, "I always have fish and lobster in my fridge so when the off season comes I still have things I can sell or do catering."

Ellis is planning to increase sales by opening a restaurant. "I am thinking of putting up a concrete structure near my house, where I can do seafood. Maybe in March I will seek another loan from the bank to start that business and employ a few others. I will register the business."

From his catch the St Thomas native sells fish, lobster and conch, with his most in- demand product locally being snapper.
The entrepreneur notes, "I always have fish and lobster in my fridge (deep freeze) so when the off season comes I still have things I can sell or do catering."
Arvell Ellis fisherman of Morant Cay in St. Thomas. The entreprenuer is thinking about opening a seafood joint.
AVIA USTANNY-COLLINDER Senior business reporter

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