Wed | Aug 12, 2020

Rio Cobre fishers reeling from polluted river

Published:Wednesday | October 23, 2019 | 12:13 AMRuddy Mathison/Gleaner Writer
Carlton Williams (right) and Delroy Foster, two of the more than 40 fishermen affected by the Rio Cobre fish kill.
Carlton Williams (right) and Delroy Foster, two of the more than 40 fishermen affected by the Rio Cobre fish kill.

More than 40 fishermen who operate along the Rio Cobre have had their livelihood dislocated because of the contamination of the river from effluent that triggered a fish kill last week.

The Government’s environmental watchdog, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA), has blamed bauxite-mining company Windalco for releasing effluent into the river, drawing the ire of residents and fisherfolk that the State has been neglectful of its oversight role. The contamination crisis is not new, as NEPA has issued enforcement notices in the past.

St Catherine North Central Member of Parliament Natalie Neita has announced that she will be filing a lawsuit on the behalf of the residents.

Carlton Williams, a 55-year-old fisherman who has been fishing in the Rio Cobre since the age of 15, told The Gleaner that the river is his only means of survival.

“Catching fish and selling to the people here and motorists who drive by has been my thing for all these years. This is how I support my family over the years,” said Williams, who reportedly earns up to $7,000 on a good day selling red- and yellow-tail perch.

“This morning, I went and pull my net, and all the fish were dead. I had to dump everything. This is bad for me because I have a family of seven, including my wife, who depend on me,” he told The Gleaner.

Residents have been told to not consume the water or fish.

Williams was critical of the way Windalco and the mining and agriculture ministries have handled the situation.

“They have not contacted us about our problems. They should step in and give us some compensation knowing that our living is affected,” he said.

Delroy Foster, who has fished in the Rio Cobre for 30 years, said that the dilemma had pushed him to the brink. Sales have collapsed.

“This is how I eat food and take care of my family. I have three children, my wife and myself,” Foster told The Gleaner. “I have many customers that I supply with fish daily. Now nobody wants to buy sick fish, so I don’t even bother to set my net.”

Lifetime resident of Bog Walk, Lindford Lewis, was also critical of Windalco, arguing that the bauxite company had shown no regard for the residents in the area and that watchdogs like NEPA had failed in their mandate.

“This has been going on for the past two weeks. I really think the environmental people should be monitoring these companies closely so we don’t end up with situations like these,” Lewis stated.

“We depend on these fishermen to supply us, especially with the river perch, which is renowned for its nutritional content. Over the years, we have seen the benefits, so this is greatly affecting us also,” he said.