Fisherfolk reeling from pollution, high gas prices
Richard Bowen, chairman of the Montego Bay Fishermen’s Cooperative Society, points to an area where pollution enters the sea through drains, which continues to impact the environment.

MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica — Garbage from inland that then makes its way into the sea, chasing fish further out, and the increasing price of fuel are making life difficult for fisherfolk at River Bay Fishing Village in Montego Bay.

As they gathered on June 29 to attend a virtual celebration of International Fisherman’s Day, they spoke about the challenges being faced by the 85-member organisation and plans for the future.

“We have some drains coming from the city and they flow out into the sea. When we get the environment messed up with the garbage, the fish go further out. So we have to go deeper and this put our lives more at risk to get the good fish so we can supply the people,” explained chairman of the Montego Bay Fishermen’s Cooperative Society Richard Bowen.

There is also strong competition, he said, from foreign fishers entering Jamaican waters, some of whom use large equipment to scoop up the fish, even the younger ones, said Bowen. As a result, the fishing stock has depleted and the fish being caught are smaller than in previous years.

“Normally a fisherman could tell you like September we going to have a run of Jack. Back then they could count on when the fish are running; now it’s different... We’ve given a lot of authority to people coming in our waters trawlers and they’ll sweep the fishes, including the young ones,” Bowen bemoaned.

He was, however, quick to praise the work of the local marine park which, through the establishment of nurseries, has been protecting the young fish so some are able to make it to maturity.

Bowen said local fishermen also understand the importance of this and do not fish within the area established by the marine park.

In relation to the price of fuel, Bowen said, “A few months ago you could have come down here and get a pound of fish for $700, $800. Now, it’s like a $1,000, $1,200 per pound. That is due to the price of gas. The fishermen have to go out, you have to buy gas to go on the sea, and sometimes they go out there and buy gas and they don’t catch anything.”

Treasurer of the cooperative Ian Beswick agreed. While last year it cost about $5,000 to fill their gas tanks, the price has now jumped to $8,000, and fisherfolk have had to increase the price of their fish, he Psaid.

“Because of the raising of the price of the fish yah now, it not selling like first time,” he said, adding that he understood the financial challenges customers have to face.

Being part of the celebration of International Fisherman’s Day on Wednesday helped lift their spirits.

“Today is a day for the fisherfolk who, a lot of times, are underrated. Some people look down on the fisherfolk, but they are very important to the Jamaican society. So today is a day celebrating us as fisherfolk… all around Jamaica,” said Bowen as they gathered to virtually participate in a seminar held in Hayes, Clarendon.

They also took some time to look ahead.

According to Bowen, the cooperative’s current focus is to see how best it can address the challenges its members face. This will include a push to improve River Bay Fishing Village.

The plan is to keep the beach clean, a continuation of a massive clean-up done earlier in June, on World Ocean’s Day. Bowen added that they also plan to do work on some areas of the fishing village to ensure it remains in good condition.

The goal is to make the area develop a reputation for not only good fish,s but also as a place where individuals can have a good time.

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