Fishermen: Don’t blame us for high cost of fish

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Fish vendor and fisherman Jovan Castillo cleans a shark at his stall on George Street, Port of Spain on Wednesday. – Angelo Marcelle

Every year, during Lent people complain about the high prices of fish often blaming the fishermen for jacking up the price of fish in one of their busiest seasons.

Sunday Newsday spoke to four fishermen who all said the wholesale price of fish depended on the size of their catch.

Vendors who buy the fish at the wholesale price add their markup which some consumers say is unreasonable.

One fisherman from Carli Bay, who identified himself only as Jimmy, said, “I pass just up the road yesterday and I know for a fact that plenty king fish was caught in the north coast on Tuesday and Wednesday. The price was $40 (a pound) but it dropped to $28 (a pound) now. When I passed a vendor selling on the road he have it for $50 per pound. So their prices are not dropping but our prices have to drop.”

He said among the many problems fishermen were the increased cost of fuel, net material, boats, engines, infrastructure, groceries and, labour.

Fawaz Khan, also from Carli Bay, said though the wholesale market prices dropped earlier in the week, they could not remain the same as fishermen did not catch any fish on Thursday or Friday.

“If you spend $40 in the wholesale market, you would want to make at least ten dollars a pound because the way it is, you’d have to buy ice, fuel for your vehicle to go and sell and then the wear and tear on your vehicle.”

He also broke down the expenses and gave comparisons before the price hike of fuel and other supplies. He said fuel would usually cost $300 for one pan (a container), but now it is $700 and a fisherman can use several of those containers on one fishing trip.

He said for example, if a fisherman had to go to the north coast from Carli Bay, they would have to spend around $2,100 in fuel.

Matelot fisherman Anderson Zoe, who is also chairman of Future Fishers an organisation representing fisherfolk in the northeast coastal villages, said from his experience, a boat costs around $70,000 to $80,000 without the engines. He said you would have to make a minimum of $250,000 investment just to start up as a fisherman.

“Sometimes we have to wonder why we’re still in this business, yes.”

“We have to look at the level of piracy, whenever you go out you could be a victim of piracy because the coast guard is not very reliable to defend the fishermen or their property at sea. We need more security and they don’t seem to have any.”

He said along with having all of these challenges, fishermen were restricted from going near oil and gas rigs where fish gather. He said the lights on the rigs attract the fish but there are restrictions on how close they can get to the rigs.

Zoe said all the fishermen from Matelot, Grand Riviere and other villages on the northeast coast have to go to Cumana to get fuel for their boats. Cumana is an hour and a half away from Matelot and it is the closest gas station for them.

“We also don’t have a fish market, so we are dependent on the vendors to come and take the catch. On top of that, they set the price because they are the ones that bring fuel and ice for the fishermen. So whatever price they say, we have to go with it.”

Along with the financial drain, all of the fishermen say they are worried about their safety at sea as instances of piracy are occurring more often. So much so, Khan said he hasn’t gone fishing during the night in almost two years.

In addition, Khan said the sea itself is dangerous as there are many factors – large waves, whales, bandits stealing their equipment and driving over them with their boats – that result in their deaths.

As for net material, Khan said it was previously $35 per pound and now it is $48 per pound.

“Everything gone up, everything and this is without the VAT (value added tax). We still have to add the 12.5 per cent of VAT to that.”

“One trip can cost me around $3,000 and I didn’t hold one fish yet,” he said.

President of the Carli Bay Fishing Association Imtiaz Khan echoed the views of the other fishermen and called on the relevant authorities to do more to protect fishermen at sea.