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Fishermen and vendors who operate from the Meadow Bank wharf, in Georgetown, are calling for better security measures to be put in place at the facility.
This was the main concern raised at the wharf on Tuesday morning when Minister of Agriculture, Zulfikar Mustapha visited the facility to check on the operations there.
During the visit, several fishermen and business owners told the minister that there were several issues affecting them, the most burning of which is the lack of proper security.
Mr. Krishna Jettoo, Managing Director of Del Ice Co, said that a better management system needs to be put in place at the wharf.
“Security is the biggest issue we have. Secondly, the wharf is falling apart and everybody is doing as they choose to do. Nobody operates by rules and regulations. There’s no management here. We had a meeting last week, concerning the same issue. I’m actually the only one who spends money to fix the wharf. Nobody pays anything and it has become a free for all. It doesn’t work that way. They come concerning issues of maritime fees for boats, but nobody pays anything because the Co-op is not functioning,” he said.
Redman (only name given) a fisherman, said he was the main breadwinner for his family and that there needs to be better prices for fishermen’s catch. He too spoke out about the lack of proper security at the wharf.
“This out here is my living. I’m a father of four. I got a lotta family and friends working here. When the fishermen them go to sea, working so hard fuh bring in them lil fish, we get next to nothing for the fish. When ya sell the fish now, sometimes you gotta be careful. The security system is bad. People coming and rob ya. We need a camera system so that ya could pick up something. A proper security system. We need better price and thing for we fish. This area where we mend the nets. The roof is leaking, is best you mend it in the sun,” he said.
Mr. Ravin Singh, a fish vendor also spoke about the lack of water at the facility.
“For years now, we ain’t getting no water on the wharf to do nothing properly. They come round and collecting a $500 a day. We does pay. I does sell also out here and the same issue with the robbery and thing,” Mr. Singh said.
Ms. Renita Joseph, who operates a seafood retail store at the wharf said there needs to be a capable body in place to address the issues faced by those operating out at the wharf.
“We need a functioning Co-op. We need a body to handle our issues. We only see the Chairman when there is a meeting so I’m asking. I spoke to him and he asked me to give him two weeks. That’s last year. We just want a capable body so they can look into all the problems because we can list them. Everybody can come and list their problems and if we have that body they can look into things like security, every aspect of it. We do have police presence here, but … we can’t even call the police because we don’t know who to trust,” she said.
Chairman of the Greater Georgetown Fishermen’s Co-op, Mr. Mohamed Khan, said while there is a police presence at the wharf, allegations of police collusion with bandits are rampant.
With regard to the facility not having providing water, Mr. Khan said this is due largely to it not having access to its own water source. He explained that in the past, water was supplied through a private well, but after the owner sold his business, that convenience ended. Ms. Lydia Basdeo, another fish vendor who operates from the wharf, said the fishermen and the Co-op need to work together to maintain order at the facility.
“Security here is two-way. People saying Mr. Khan is not doing his duty, but the fishermen or the boat owners also not doing their duty. They were supposed to be paying to use the wharf. Nothing of that sort happens here and everybody doing as they like. Even the people them that clean the fish; if you go and tell them “if you clean the fish and throw the guts there, worms are going to come up” they abuse you. It reaches a stage where you cannot say anything here,” she said.
After listening to the concerns, Minister Mustapha said there needs to be improvements to the services provided at the facility and that he would try to have some repairs done at the wharf. “Before we collect money from anyone, we have to provide a service so we will try to see what we can do from our level. The most burning issues, based on what was said, are security, the state of the building and the water. I can’t make a full commitment that we’ll do all the repairs right away, but I’ll review our work programme and see what can be done. I’ve also instructed the Chief Fisheries Officer to meet with the Co-op and the fishermen to see how soon we can deal with all these issues.
I’ll try to see what renovation works we can do to this building. These repairs cost a lot of money and only recently we had the National Budget read so I’ll see from my Ministry what resources we’ll have to try and enhance the structure. We also have to look at the cost to maintain this building. It has to be cost effective. If the services are being provided, then we have to ensure those benefiting pay a small fee to maintain these services but we first have to get the facility back in order.”
Minister Mustapha also said that due to the COVID19 pandemic, exports to certain countries were halted, which has resulted in a glut of fish and other seafood items on the market. This, he said, has in turn influenced the prices of fish.
However, with export markets slowly reopening, fishermen can expect better prices for their catch as the year progresses.
Minister Mustapha also assured the fishermen and business owners that he would engage his colleague Ministers who are responsible for security and water, Robeson Benn and Collin Croal respectively, to have systems put in place to improve security and provide water at the facility.
The Agriculture Minister also said that his ministry will be working with both the fishermen and the Co-op to resolve all other existing challenges. Further, a committee would be established, headed by the Chief Fisheries Officer and comprising representatives from the Co-op and the fishermen, to resolve issues that may arise in the future.