Full Disclosure
October 5, 2007
A case for fishing in SVG

The Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations described the state of our fishing industry in 2002 as being predominantly small scale and artisanal, employing traditional gear, methods and vessels. The report expressed that most fishers are daily operators, going out to sea in the morning and returning to land in the late afternoon or evening. There was no apparent evidence of commercial fishing of any significance. With a rather dismal review in 2002, one can at least hope for better in the future, with an investment of six million dollars into a revolving fund for the development of the Fishing Industry Fleet Expansion Progamme, and the construction of a modern multi-million dollar Fishing Complex in Owia.{{more}} These two projects properly executed will have the potential of changing the face of the fishing industry in St Vincent and the Grenadines for ever.

The statistics from the FAO in 2002 proved that the fisheries subsector contributed approximately 2% to the GDP of St Vincent and the Grenadines. It is interesting to note that approximately 7% of the total labour force is engaged directly or indirectly in the fishing industry, with most of our fisher folk depending solely on fishing for their livelihood. With an increasing population and a developing tourism sector, as well as a move towards a healthier life style among our people, one can foresee a rapid rise in the demand for fish. Hence, without doubt, there is a definite need to begin to ensure that the machinery is in place to provide more fish. The report also outlined that fish caught locally provided for 70% of the per capita consumption of fish and fish products. The other 30% was imported as canned or otherwise processed fish, amounting to an estimated US$ 2.7 million annually.

The memorandum of agreement recently signed between the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, the National Insurance Scheme and the various lending agencies to co-operate and assist in the administration of loan arrangements for the development of the Fishing Industry Fleet Expansion Programme outlines the following, which should be satisfied before one can avail themselves of funding for purchasing of a vessel. Importantly, the borrower must be a national of St. Vincent and the Grenadines, intending to purchase a decked fishing vessel to participate in the Fishing Industry within the State. The vessel to be bought must comply with the minimum safety and construction standards as stipulated by the Fisheries Division. The borrower must be a registered member of the National Insurance Scheme, and the fishing vessel should be ranging from 30 -65 feet in length or as otherwise specified from time to time.

It is extremely clear that there is a valiant attempt to expand the fishing industry in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. This is part of a general policy framework for the fisheries sector based on expansion of fish production on a sustainable basis to provide a key source of protein for the national population at a competitive price. The extent of the success will, however, be heavily dependant on the fishermen and fisherwomen who are encouraged to take on the challenge of investing in their livelihood, by exploring the opportunity of purchasing larger fishing vessels.

Through the years, our fishing industry has been impaired because of relatively poor marketing arrangements, restricting the commercial expansion of fish production. For the most part, fishermen and fisherwomen bring their catch in ill-equipped boats, thus restricting their catch. Historically, there has been a lacking in adequate processing facilities and storage capacity, particularly in rural districts, which forces fisher folk to sell their catch or perish with them, due to unavailability of any significant scale of mechanization in the industry. This fact must at all times be measured against the consideration that fish is a perishable resource. However, current trends show that we are making positive changes.

One other major factor which has a negative impact on our fishing industry relates to issues of employment. In recent times, forms of employment outside of fishing have attracted higher wages. Therefore, the industry has had to compete significantly for manpower, particularly at the primary and secondary levels of the industry.

As a progressive people, our health at all times is vital. There has been recent mention of a ‘wellness revolution’, which is catching on quite nicely. Although no single food can make a person healthy, eating more seafood is one way that most of us can help improve our diets and our health. Many of the studies about beneficial omega-3 fatty acids focus on fish as the primary source. Salmon, sardines, tuna and even shellfish are rich in omega-3 fatty acid content, but increasing your consumption of all types of fish and seafood is recommended.

The American Heart Association recommends that you eat fish rich in omega-3 fatty acids twice a week in order to reap specific health benefits. The American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada: Women’s Health and Nutrition position paper suggests, that consuming two to three fish meals per week, along with a low-fat diet, is perfect for heart health. Although all fish are not high in omega-3s, they still can contribute important amounts of these fatty acids if they are eaten regularly.

I can envisage the Ministry of Tourism coming on board fully when there is an increase in the supply of fish. Fishing marries nicely with Tourism. The experience in the neighbouring island of Barbados is that each Friday and Saturday night hundreds of locals and visitors flock to Oistins for the Fish-Fry, an opportunity to enjoy the very best local food, fried and grilled fish, fish cakes or salt fish cakes, and so much more.

In fact, Oistins Fish Fry has now become so popular that it is suggested to be the second highest rated attraction in Barbados, after Harrison Cave. We must work on our own Baga Fish fest, and in the near future an Owia Fish Festival, which will both have immense potential.

We must all come on board. It is quite baffling at times when one gives attention to the manner in which we generally pay scant regard to the development taking place around us, because we are preoccupied in trading knowledge for something less. It is a sad state of affairs, which has proven to be inhibitive to all forms of progress.

On a lighter note, however, all being equal, soon I will be able to purchase cheaper fish from Sister Andrea. We have the opportunity to develop a very important sector in our country, but it will only strive if it receives our blessings.