R. Rose
May 20, 2016

Fisherfolk and farmers deserve recognition and respect

Congratulations to the respective winners in this year’s FISHERFOLK DAY competition. Note, I say Fisherfolk, for we can no longer justify the use of Fisherman’s Day, when we are having active participation by women.

Time for us to get in line and be more gender sensitive. It is an advance that we have been able to move from an exclusively male event to one with participation by both sexes and we must continue along this line, giving women their due in the process.{{more}}

The Fisherman’s Day activities were initiated since the mid-seventies and have endured the passage of time, now having been extended to a month of activities in various fishing communities. There have been changes over the years, but it is a tribute to the fisherfolk and the organizers that the festival has survived.

Venues have changed, from the family, picnic-like atmosphere at Canash in the early days, to the Kingstown Fish Market, perhaps losing its fishing community identity in the process, to the current venue at Calliaqua, itself home to a smaller fishing complex and base for a number of small craft as well as the Coastguard. Significantly, although the government has constructed a multi-million-dollar fishing complex at Owia in the north of the country, intended to be the most modern facility, no major Fisherman’s Day activity has been held there.

From a consumer point of view, while the festival continues to attract public support, there is a strong view that Fisherfolk Day should offer promotional incentives to consumers to encourage more people to purchase and consume this valuable source of protein. Fish is sold at the same price as on ordinary market days. With the price of ‘choice’ fish being $9 per lb, most poorer folks find it prohibitive and if only for the Big Day, it would be worth the while to explore promotional packages.

Whatever one’s views on these matters, however, it should not detract from us celebrating with our fisher folk the day in honour of their contribution – to our health and nutrition, to the economy and to the society as a whole. What these issues demonstrate is that one must constantly inject new ideas and forms of activity to maintain a high level of public interest and participation.

More than nearly all other occupations, fishing is a high-risk one. When one leaves to go out and ply one’s trade, one must contend with the sea and ocean, with the tides and weather, even with the danger of encountering modern pirates. You never know if you will see home again. It also calls for investment in boats, tackle and gear, not to speak of the cost of petrol. The maximum price of fish is $9, but a man can rear a goat, sometimes on other people’s land, and sell for $12 and more per pound; such is how the market is skewed.

It means that we should be all the more appreciative of the efforts of the enterprising men and women who take on this role. Modern-day demands make it imperative that we try to upgrade fishing methods, use more technology, better equipped boats and safety equipment, so that we become more efficient in the quantity and quality of the catch, as well as in reducing overhead costs and ultimately the cost to the consumer. That must be central to the thrust for achieving the goal of Zero Hunger. Government has a responsibility to be innovative and use attractive incentives to attract more investment in the sector.

Socially and economically, our attitudes towards the fishing sector need radical overhaul. The hesitance to invest in the sector has its roots in those attitudes which still see fishing as for the “underclass”. No wonder there are not many, if any of our potential graduates from the prestigious Community College, contemplating a career in the fishing industry.

Those attitudes have their roots in the old and outdated concept of the Fish Market as a place for rowdy and unruly people, a term sadly still in use today. It betrays both a lack of respect for our fisherfolk, as well as a failure to appreciate their crucial role in our society. The nature of change must be not only economic, it needs to be sociological as well.

Which brings me to a final, related point. So far this year, we have already celebrated a day for women, International Women’s Day, one for mothers, one for workers (May Day), and now one for fisherfolk. What of that other fundamental contributor to the food chain, the farming community? When are we going to institute an official Farmer’s Day to focus on, and honour our hard-working farmers?

Some, unofficial, efforts have been made in the past by the now defunct National Farmers’ Union, WINFA and the National Fairtrade Organization. These must be revived and given national recognition and respect. Our nation owes much to our fishers and farmers.

Renwick Rose is a community activist and social commentator.