After spending $3 million to refurbish the Otaheite Fishing Complex, fishermen say they are forced to sell their catch outside on the car park, braving wind, rain, and sun because the Fisheries Division has locked them out.
Interviewed, president of the Otaheite Fishing Association Clement Charles said its been two years since the facility was closed.
In the meantime, fish vendors are continuing to operate from the car park.
“We get wet and we face the heat every day. We are appealing to the Fisheries Division to open this million dollar facility so we can use it,” Charles said. He said in 2016 the facility was upgraded.
“They painted the retail section, halfway paved the car park and refurbished the wholesale section and boat house. Shortly after the contractor handed over the building, the Ministry of Agriculture Fisheries Division placed a padlock saying they needed to set up a management system before it could operate,” Charles said.
Another fisherman, Sasoon Boyce claimed there may be a sinister plot about why the facility is closed.
“It seems they think we are too dumb to run this facility ourselves so they locked it up. If they think we are stupid, why not put it in the hands of the regional corporation to run?” Boyce said.
Mark Charles, another fisherman said they contacted the director of fisheries for the facility to be reopened.
When contacted, Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat denied that the Fisheries Division had closed up the facility.
“This was done by a group of dissident fishermen who padlocked the facility to prevent other fishermen from using it,” Rambharat said.
He said he met with the fisherfolk who operate there.
“The problem is the fisherfolk. Garbage is dumped in the newly refurbished area and the fisherfolk were insisting on operating outside and on the roadside,” Rambharat said.
He added, “The place is not locked by us. The fisherfolk have their own disputes and one group put a lock on the gate. I was there in 2017 with a delegation and on my own in July 2018. It was reported in the newspaper that I said they are creating their own problems.”
Asked whether it was illegal for one group of fishermen to restrict others from selling and what was the point of having a $3 million facility that cannot be used, Rambharat responded, “In a perfect world.”
Asked whether the ministry could reopen the facility and ensure it is used, Rambharat said, “How can we ensure that it is used if it’s the users that are creating the problems? This is not unique to Otaheite and it is not the first time I am speaking about it. I cannot force people to be sensible and responsible.”
He said fisherfolk should organise themselves and work with the local authorities to protect and preserve the places provided for them to earn their livelihood.
Rambharat referred further questions to Director of Fisheries Elizabeth Mohammed but she could not be reached for comment as calls to her cellular phones went unanswered.
- by Radhica De Silva