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Morant Bay fishing village has challenges

Published:Thursday | September 3, 2015 | 9:00 AMShanna Monteith

MORANT BAY, St Thomas:

On the shores of the sea in Morant Bay lies an old fishing village that has been a refuge for many fishers, and though its coast is not as developed as it once was, men still use the sea as their main, if not sole, source of income.

Over the years, the people have come together and formed a fishers group, which has weekly meetings at the seaside and which collects dues that are used to buy items that the members require for their daily fishing needs.

Steve Chong, vice-president of the Morant Bay Fishermen Group, told Rural Xpress that not everyone at the village is associated with the group.

"Members are required to pay dues and attend the meetings, and not everyone here wants to contribute their money and time to the village. Some people just come, fish, and get paid and nothing else, but when it's time for benefits, everybody thinks they should partake," he said.

Chong laments the fact that much has changed where members of the trade are concerned.

'Go-a-sea men'

"In earlier days, we had fishermen and we hardly have those. Now, we have what I would call 'go-a-sea men.'

In an effort to distinguish between the two, Chong said: "Fishermen use the trade as a form of employment. Just like how people go to work every day, that's how real fishermen go to sea. The 'go-a-sea' men are like opportunists. They are here one day and the next they're not - only here when a particular need needs to be satisfied."

Bathroom facilities and places to store fishing equipment were highlighted as the village's biggest needs.

Men and women who use the area daily revealed that they were guaranteed a bathroom by government entities many years ago and blame the regime for not staying true to its promise.

But the vice-president of the group had something different to say.

"A cousin of mine who is a principal started building the bathroom, and I think it's neglect of the fishermen here why it's not finished as yet. If we came together as a village and decided that we're going to finish it, then it would have been completed years ago," said Chong, disclosing that there is little work left to be done on the bathroom.

According to him: "The structure is there. The pit hole is dug and is already packed, so all we need is to get some zinc to cover it. The president contributed a toilet bowl and we already have a source of water, so it's just neglect."

Chong, who has been there for more than 30 years admits that though the Morant Bay Fishing Village is not the worst, improvement is definitely needed.

"The last storm (Hurricane Sandy, 2012) really destroyed the place. We heard that there was assistance granted for St Thomas, Portland, and St Mary, which suffered major damage, but in the end, some of the fishermen had to beg, and all we ended up getting were two rolls of wire," Chong said, adding that they (the fishers) brought back the place to the state it is in now without help from the Government despite numerous promises.

He continued: "I wouldn't directly want to say that we should depend on someone to provide, but we would appreciate any assistance we can get. Jamaicans love free things, and when you're getting things free, they become complacent and don't want to do anything for themselves. We've been making a little headway already as we have storage that can facilitate most of the fishermen."

Chong is worried about congestion of the facilities because of the size of the beach and the number of people who fish there.

However, his major fear lies in his belief that though the fishing industry is still beneficial and will be for a long time, the area is overfished and the reefs are dying and the catch is getting less.

rural@gleanerjm.com