FISHERFOLK IN St. Vincent and the Grenadines met on Tuesday, September 1 to carefully examine why the special needs of the sector were not taken fully on board by social protection measures during the recent shocks of La Soufriere volcano and the COVID-19 pandemic. Under the Global Environment Facility funded ‘Developing Organizational Capacity for Ecosystem Stewardship and Livelihoods in Caribbean Small-Scale Fisheries’ project, being implemented by The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the stakeholder meeting worked on developing a Shock-Responsive Social Protection Strategy and Action Plan for the Small-Scale Fisherfolk of St. Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).
Well managed social protection systems ensure that every person enjoys a basic set of rights, services and facilities, that includes coverage for life cycle risks such as loss of employment and injury, as well as access to good sanitation, water, health and education, and also preventive measures such as insurance schemes. Shock-responsive social protection guarantees social protection services that can cope with shock.
At the September 1 stakeholder’s meeting that brought together some of St. Vincent and the Grenadines’s strongest industry advocates and participants, the fisherfolk spoke passionately on some matters of concern. Some of them had decades of experience and wisdom from working in the industry and applauded the effort to secure shock-responsive social protection for the small-scale fisherfolk, especially as St. Vincent and the Grenadines is prone to a range of hazards, apart from volcanic eruptions.
The significant ashfall from the eruption of La Soufriere in April 2021 had far-reaching effects on the seawater all around the country, changing both the sea and the seabed, and the cloudy, dirty waters drove fish away from St. Vincent and the Grenadines. This disrupted all fishing operations, from harvests to sales and exports.
During a data gathering survey to inform the ideas for the strategy and plan, fishers pointed out that in the aftermath of the eruptions, the cash payment plan offered as a social protection measure, was worked out based on land zone divisions. This did not work out so well for fishers in other zones, as they explained that fishing does not operate on the land – all fishing areas and travel routes through coastal waters were disrupted or off-limits, and there were no sales to customers who normally live in the red and orange zones. Even on their return home, fishers in the northern zones continue to face losses, as every time there is a lahar, the seawater is too muddy for spearfishing and seine fishing.
Among the fisherfolk, there was doubt and frustration because the needs of the industry did not appear to be a national priority. A renowned vendor and fisher, Eocen Victory remarked that, “It’s a good initiative, but I am concerned whether the plan would be implemented”. Despite the hurdles faced, these industry stalwarts recognized the enormous relevance of shock-responsive social protection for safeguarding fisheries performance overall, and for protecting the industry’s actors during rocky times.
President of the Goodwill Fisherman’s Cooperative Society, Andre Liverpool, said “The plan shows that we are making the link between ending poverty and achieving economic growth.”
Liverpool also pointed out, “It is important too that we get and use data to ensure that we are managing the industry for sustainability”.
Vibert Pierre, president of the Barrouallie Fisheries Development Co-operative Society, liked the fact that the plan was pointing to areas of social protection where fishers’ needs would be specifically addressed. Pierre noted that “Women are often involved in homecare, and so when fishers’ livelihoods suffer, the well-being of their womenfolk and families suffer as well”.
The fisherfolk will work over the coming days to review and finalise the plan that is expected to include actions to build greater awareness among fisherfolk for social protection, strengthen fisherfolk participation in existing national social protection programmes, and improve the much-needed co-ordination among government ministries for optimised cost-efficiency and maximum impact benefits. Building an organised social protection network will ensure that the industry is more resilient for dealing with shocks and recovery needs.
In his reflections on the importance of the present initiative, Senior Fisheries Officer, Kris Isaacs said, “Social protection strategies and initiatives are critical in building resilience and positively impacting food security, nutrition and human capital development in various sectors but especially in the fishing industry which plays a key role in putting food on the plates of Vincentians.”
Isaacs added that, “Following a crisis such as La Soufriere volcanic eruption, shock-responsive social protection plans/ programmes can help restore and rebuild industry functions, rehabilitate critical infrastructure and build resilience for future crises. That’s what makes the present initiative so critical to ensuring effective support and protection for our fisherfolk!”