Sun | May 27, 2018

Dunder destroying Cabarita River, Fisherfolk hurting

Published:Tuesday | May 19, 2015 | 12:00 AMPaul Clarke
Fish caught in the Long Water River on display for sale along the roadway in Big Bridge, Westmoreland. In times past, when the Cabarita River was in full swing, the line of fishes would cover both sides of the road.
The Cabarita River in Big Bridge, Westmoreland, was once teeming with fish. Today, residents describe it as “dead, lifeless”.

After decades of being a major income source for fisherfolk in Big Bridge, Westmoreland, the rich fish stock of the once-bountiful Cabarita River is now dying a slow death as a result of the toxic dunder from the nearby Frome Sugar Estate.

As a consequence, third-generation fisherfolk like Carlton Forrest, who heads the Big Bridge Fishing Group, are now facing an uncertain future as the dunder - waste water from the production of ethanol by the fermentation of molasses - is killing their main source of income.

"The dunder flowing into the river has effectively killed off all the fish in there," said Forrest. "Fishing is what our father and grandfather did. Now, look at the river. It is a dead body of water. Nothing lives in it, and Frome [Sugar Estate] is to be blamed for this mess it has created."

The constant inflow of dunder has not only devastated the fish stock, around which the nearly 40-odd fishing families have planned their lives, but the murky-looking water also had a disconcerting stench when Western Focus visited the area recently.

"Dunder is flowing into the river unchecked, so this is a serious case of environmental degradation," said Sefton Gunnes, a seasoned fisherman from the community. "Sooner or later, it is going

to impact our health as well. ... That

liquid waste from the alcoholic distilleries cannot be good for our health."

While the community's anger is primarily directed at the Chinese-owned Pan Caribbean Sugar Company (PCSC), which owns the Frome Sugar Estate, residents also believe that the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) is equally guilty, having allowed the situation to worsen over the years.

"NEPA is not taking the matter seriously. ... If they were, they would have slapped a ban on the Frome sugar factory," said Forrest. "Even though it may be too late to save the Cabarita, I still believe something should be done ... . This river has built our families and it means a lot to us."

With only few sections of the river still in fair enough condition for fishing, many of the fisherfolk in Big Bridge have had to turn to the nearby Long Water River to generate a livelihood from fishing.

"Not only does the dunder smell really bad; it is also acidic. Fish pots placed in the river now last only a matter of days, whereas before we could keep our pots in the river for weeks - if not months - before replacing them," said Anthony Powell, a second-generation fisherman.




While efforts to get a comment on the situation from PCSC proved futile, a source familiar with the US$100 million upgrading work now taking place at the factory said based on the new technology being introduced, the dunder problem could soon become a thing of the past.

"It is my understanding that with the new technology, the dunder issue will be eliminated ... . Once that happens, I hope the river can be resuscitated," the source told The Gleaner. "At present, it is an untidy situation that warrants a meaningful resolution."

As the residents of Big Bridge continue to lay blame at the feet of the sugar estate, Forrest thinks they deserve to be compensated.

"Frome is the culprit here. They not only need to talk to us, but they need to do something about the current situation," said Forrest. "Dunder dumping in any river is very bad for health, and our financial losses must be addressed."