Mark Titus, Gleaner Writer
While Hurricane Sandy has left pain and anguish in sections of eastern Jamaica, for the residents of Whitehouse Fishing Village in Montego Bay, it has brought them absolute delight: the fish that descended on the coastline to escape the tempest in the east.
"It has been very good for us," president of the Whitehouse Fishermen's Cooperative, Troy Jumpp, said in reference to the significant increase in the fish population off the Whitehouse coastline. "This is not unusual for us. Whenever there is such a disturbance in climate, this usually happen.
"Hurricanes normally disturb the fish population, and when they hit areas like the western section of Haiti, Cuba, or Cayman, we will get fish in large numbers here - even some that we don't usually find in our waters," added Jumpp.
However, while the fishing bonanza has given the Whitehouse fisherfolk the capacity to feed even the multitude that Jesus Christ fed in the biblical account of the feeding of the 5,000, the level-headed Jumpp is fully cognisant of the fact that their present good fortune will not last forever and the pre-bonanza concerns will once again resurface.
"We are keen that the members of the Fishermen's Cooperative continue to exercise good fishing practice in order to protect their livelihood," said Jumpp. "In fact, we are calling for a meeting with Agriculture and Fisheries Minister Roger Clarke to discuss the various issues and concerns we have been facing."
CHALLENGES TURN AWAY YOUTH
According to Jumpp, over the years, the fishermen have been facing challenges such as the absence of a cold storage facility, the high cost of fishing gear, and slowness of the licensing procedure, which collectively make fishing unattractive to youth in the community.
"We have been calling for a meeting for years, but successive governments have refused to sit with us and only seek to make politically correct statements while the industry is dying," said Jumpp. "The fact is that right now, most of the older fishermen are dying out and the younger generation has no real interest in continuing because the support system is not encouraging."
While noting that the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries has instructed that some work be carried out on the infrastructure in the area, Jumpp believes that the Government needs to reach out and engage the fishermen, especially since they have more experience in the area and can best understand the various issues and concerns.
"We don't need handouts. We can earn for ourselves, but the fishing community must be guided and supported," argued Jumpp. "We don't need representatives to try and bully us … . We need the [fisheries] minister to come and have a conversation with us, not just [have us as] the side bar on one of his big agendas."
While he is concerned about issues such as the price of petrol and the lack of support from the hotel industry, veteran fisherman, 74-year-old Tom Gibbs, wants to see the industry policed properly -
"The laws are there from the 1970s, but no one is enforcing them," said Gibbs, "For example, we are not supposed to use certain size mesh wire, but when you go to the Fisherman's Co-op Credit Union, you get it to buy. This should not be so."
With their fish pots turning in handsome returns since the passage of Hurricane Sandy, the Whitehouse fisherfolk intend to enjoy this most-welcome bonanza as long as it lasts.