Fisherfolk thrown a lifeline with safety training, new gear
In his more than two decades as a fisherman, Glasford Alexander Mitchell has faced a lot of dangers at sea, but two experiences stand out vividly in his mind.
“I can remember, one Sunday morning I went to sea. It was a tough morning, I didn’t catch much, and, while returning, a wave jump inside the boat on me like a man, and it capsized. Luckily, it was a wooden boat, so, after it sank, it come afloat and I have to turn it over and ride it out on the bottom of the boat,” the 59-year-old said.
In another incident, his equipment fell into the sea and he make frantic efforts to retrieve it.
“I tried to swim out to save my equipment, and my gear that I was wearing at the time, it was drawing me down. I took my time to swim back slowly to the boat, and that’s how my life was saved,” he said.
With these frightening encounters. he was more than happy to take part in a three-day navigation and seamanship training programme organised by the Maritime Training Centre of the Caribbean at the Caribbean Maritime University (CMU), done in partnership with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.
Mitchell, who is also president of the Hunts Bay Fisherfolk Benevolent Society, which is based on Dyke Road in Portmore, St Catherine, told The Gleaner that the knowledge he gained over the few days will be integral to how he operates at sea going forward.
“With this type of training, I am better equipped with navigation, and know differently how to handle myself at sea because of climate change and unpredictable weather,” he said. “The training has helped us to learn more about safety, not just for myself, but when I go back to the community, I will also impart it to them.”
Mitchell was one of 32 fisherfolk from across the island who were presented with safety gear during a graduation ceremony at the CMU on Thursday.
The programme, which kicked off in August with fishers in Montego Bay and was extended to others in Black River, St Elizabeth, and Kingston, forms part of a Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries initiative to enhance the livelihood of those in the sector.
Junior Fisheries Minister Franklin Witter extolled the programme and highlighted its importance in helping to prevent deaths at sea.
“This is an important skill for all seafarers – the ability to navigate our coastal waters and ensure that all seafarers possess the necessary skills to ensure safe seamanship. It is very important to improve the competence of our hardcore fishers, and consequently reducing the risk of loss of life at sea,” he said.
Witter disclosed that the ministry has signed a memorandum of understanding with the CMU to train up to 35 fisherfolk annually for a five-year period. A similar agreement was signed with The University of the West Indies’ Discovery Bay Marine Lab to provide certification in open-water scuba diving for fishers, starting this month.
Additionally, he said that the National Fisheries Authority is creating an offshore radio communication system for fishermen, which is scheduled to be up and running by the end of the year.