Otaheite fishermen want $3 million depot open

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

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