Karen Sudu, Gleaner Writer
ONE OF the most popular fresh-water fish outlets in St Catherine is the Twickenham Park fish market. However, unlike previous years when sales boomed and there was a constant flow of customers, vendors are complaining that business has decreased significantly.
"I remember in the past customers had to make a line to get the fish, now we just have to beg God to send customers come," lamented 51-year-old Ann-Marie Darien, who was a housewife before she got into the business.
Prior to selling fish, 55-year-old Audrey DaCosta, mother of six, was a market vendor. Like Darien, she has been selling the product for more than 20 years.
"Right now, we hardly make any money, we're just just from hand to mouth," DaCosta told AgroGleaner.
The fish market in Twickenham Park originated on the grounds of Inland Fisheries in the early 1980s. At that time, Arnold Mills, a former pond operator at the company, was responsible for assisting fish farmers to, among other things, weigh and sell their fish on a Thursday, which was the designated sales day.
'Business gone down'
In 1985, he became one of the first two vendors to take the fish market to its present location. Over time, he became one of the biggest distributors of the product, supplying not only vendors, but restaurants and supermarkets in Kingston and St Catherine.
"The business gone down. The price of the fish is $250 a pound now and people don't really have the money to buy what they want," he lamented. "Those who usually come to buy 10 and 15 pounds just come and buy two or three pounds," Mills explained.
But Dr Vincent Wright, acting president of Jamaica Fresh Water Fish Farmers' Association, said over the years, imported fish, which is sold at a cheaper price, and an increase in the number of the fish markets, have put a dent in business.
"When we started out in the early 1980s, there weren't many fish farmers around and that (Twickenham Park) was one of the major locations for the sale of freshwater fish," Wright related. "As a result, a number of persons came all the way from Kingston and Portmore to buy fish. However, of late, you have a number of other small areas where the fish is sold," he explained.
The establishment of the fish market at its present site provided the opportunity for persons like Ainsworth Morrison, who lost his job with a government agency in 1986, to carve out a livelihood. He opted to become a scaler.
"The vendors don't scale fish. When the customers buy the fish, the scalers scale them at a different price. The standard price today is $10 per pound," he explained. Morrison, who later became a vendor, then a fish farmer, wanted to see the Twickenham Park fishing hub more developed, offering a number of attractions to patrons. So, he later established a bar, 'Ainsworth Pub.' But he is still dissatisfied with the aesthetic appeal of the area, now home of approximately 20 vendors.
"I would love to see a more developed structure, a more environmentally friendly area, because we are handling food. Maggi came in and did some painting, but we still need more development," he told AgroGleaner.
Agreeing, Wright said that the entire area needs to be upgraded to make it more appealing, probably, even into a tourist attraction. He is suggesting that councillor for the Twickenham Park Division, Donovan Guy, and the Member of Parliament Denise Daley assist the vendors to upgrade the facility.
"The former MP Sharon Hay-Webster was the person who established the area and got it up to a state of readiness for the sale of fish, and I think the current MP could come in and take it to another level," said Wright.
He is also suggesting that the vendors form an association to maintain their facilities, as well as regulate how they operate.
"You can't have any and everybody coming there to sell fish, so you need a regulatory body to control all of that and to take care of the facilities," he advised.