Rio Cobre fisherfolk displeased with fish kill compensation
Fisherfolk and small business operators who were affected by last July’s major fish kill in the Rio Cobre have expressed disappointment with the compensation package they received Wednesday and vow to seek legal action. The payouts, according to...
Fisherfolk and small business operators who were affected by last July’s major fish kill in the Rio Cobre have expressed disappointment with the compensation package they received Wednesday and vow to seek legal action.
The payouts, according to the affected parties, were far lower than what they had submitted in claims to the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) for approval.
Representatives from NEPA handed out 120 cheques each valued at just over $131,000 in a closed-door session at the Bog Walk Seventh-day Adventist Church on Wednesday.
Aska Hart, who has made a living from fishing in the Rio Cobre for 47 years, told The Gleaner that the sum he received was inadequate. Stakeholders were prohibited from fishing for days until technical officials ruled the water safe.
“This cannot help me. The amount of sufferation I go through since last year until now is rough,” said Hart, who has resolved to reinvest the funds in goat farming.
“If they had restocked the river with fish like they promised, things wouldnt be so bad. This is a drop in the bucket,” said Wilton Nesbeth, who has made his livelihood from the river for many years.
Nesbeth said he transitioned into farming after the fish kill but intends to use the funds to purchase mesh wire to make fish traps. He is hopeful that the fish stock will be replenished.
NEPA had served notice of intention to suspend the environmental licence granted to bauxite company UC Rusal (Windalco) over the fish kill.
UC Rusal reported on July 30 that effluent at its Ewarton plant in St Catherine overflowed into waterways.
Christopher Thompson, another stakeholder, said he has been longing for the compensation. However, he, too, was disappointed about the amount dispensed.
“This is not enough. Mi nuh really satisfy because mi nuh recover from di one dem before,” he disclosed, while lamenting the failure of NEPA to restock the river with fish.
NEPA had recommended $57.2 million in compensation to the affected fisherfolk, but only $16 million was approved by the Government.
The sum was calculated using the average daily catch of each species of fish and the number of fishermen who were estimated to be in the area.
The Government drew down on Windalco’s environment performance bond of US$771,000 following the spillage of effluent.
Opposition Leader Mark Golding, who toured the area in the aftermath of the fish kill, had promised to help with restocking the river with fish, but this has not been forthcoming.
Golding told The Gleaner Wednesday that he had contacted NEPA and requested a time frame for his donors to deliver the fish but was told by the agency that they were awaiting Cabinet aporoval.
In the meantime, the opposition leader is questioning the justification for treating the fishermen less favourably than other agencies such as NEPA and the National Irrigation Commission (NIC).
“The fisherfolk suffered the biggest reduction in percentage terms, and they are getting only 28 per cent, while NEPA and the NIC are getting 100 per cent, along with the National Water Commission getting 40 per cent of the total allocation,” Golding said.
President of the Friends of the Rio Cobre, Kestenord Gordon, encouraged the fisherfolk to accept the initial payout while he seeks redress for full compensation in the courts.
Gleaner queries submitted to NEPA went unanswered up to press time Wednesday.