BLUEFIELDS, Westmoreland — Fishery inspectors at the Bluefields Bay Fish Sanctuary, one of the country’s largest, have not received salaries since January.
The Government-owned facility is managed by the Bluefields Bay Fishermen’s Friendly Society (BBFFS)., and according to manager Wolde Kristos, his team is unable to pay because of a halt in payments from the Government.
The BBFFS has had an agreement with the Government to manage the fish sanctuary since 2011. Kristos said subventions are to be paid quarterly. They have not been paid since the start of the year.
“We have not received any subventions [after] working the past two quarters — January to March quarter  and now March to June,” he told the Jamaica Observer.
“We are unable to pay staff and we are also unable to buy gas to do patrols of the sanctuary. Beyond this week, we don’t know what is going to happen,” he said.
For fishery inspector Julian Forrester it is frustrating.
“Mi feel very bad ’cause mi can’t eat dinner. Mi guh doctor and coulda only buy one of the medication. Plus, cost of living and the little bit a money we a get, it can’t do,” she said.
She explained that she has worked 12-hour shifts for the last 11 years and the subvention has never been increased in all those years.
Kristos said he wrote a letter to the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Pearnel Charles Junior detailing the issue, but he is yet to get an official response.
Advisor to the minister, Bindley Sangster, confirmed that the letter was received but it came as the minster was about to leave the island on a work trip. He said Minister Charles will not be able to respond until he returns from a conference he is set to attend in Portugal on Friday.
“He wrote to express his concerns. We acknowledged his communication; we explained to him that it will require an investigation and report,” said Sangster of the ministry’s communication with Kristos.
Kristos has also reached out to the National Fisheries Authorities (NFA), which responsible for paying over the funds, but soon realised there was nothing they could do unless the Government made the funds available.
“They (NFA) can’t give us what they don’t get. It’s extremely difficult. The workers are not as motivated,” he added.
CEO of the NFA, Gavin Bellamy said he is aware that there is an issue, however he said he would have to get further information to say whether that issue had been resolved. The wait, however, may be unbearable for employees as president of the BBFFS, Deceita Turner told the Observer that her workers are depressed.
“It’s not a good feeling being one of the persons who is here day to day with the workers and to see their depression and the stress levels they are going through and not being able to pay their bills,” she said.
While they have endured the challenges so far, she is worried some may eventually quit. They often ask for updates, she said.
“They can’t continue on minimum wage and at this time not getting anything at all,” a distraught Turner said.
A fishing sanctuary, officially referred to as a special fishery and conservation area in Jamaica, is a marine area where no fishing is allowed so that fish have a chance to grow and repopulate surrounding areas.