Water quality improving but woes linger for Rio Cobre fishers
Fishermen who make their living from the Rio Cobre have said that the recent fish kill caused by caustic effluent from bauxite and alumina company Windalco entering the waterway is the worst they have ever seen.
The recurring problem has been a source of pain for many St Catherine residents living near the river for years, with their livelihoods, recreation, and domestic activities disrupted due to the pollution.
On Thursday, fishermen told The Gleaner that they are not expecting to be able to resume operations in the river for at least six months as they wait for the water to return to normal and for the fish stock to be replenished.
“With fishing, I have it as a daily bread where mi use it fi tek care a mi yute fi send him go school,” said local fisherman Daniel Gayle, explaining that the river is the main source of income for many residents, adding that the Kent Village and Bog Walk residents love their fish meals.
While other fishermen said they had other sources of income, the earnings from those endeavours pale in comparison to what they would make selling fish.
Franklin Williams, who has been fishing in the Rio Cobre for 30 years, told The Gleaner that with each day he is not able to carry out his trade, he is missing out of thousands of dollars in earnings.
“Mi affi find some other alternative fi survive, some way, somehow,” said Williams.
His colleague, Delroy Foster, said the situation was worse than previous incidents and that efforts to fish in other nearby rivers have yielded no results.
“Mi set three net night before last and mi catch not even one [fish]. Not even a crayfish,” he lamented.
Matthew Samuda, minister without portfolio in the Ministry of Economic Growth and Job Creation, has noted that funds will be taken from Windalco’s environmental performance bond if necessary to deal with the crisis. He added that the Government would be providing support for those whose livelihoods have been disrupted by the spill and water trucked to residents impacted.
He also advised citizens to seek legal redress against the company if they feel so inclined.
Since January 2011, at least 15 fish kills have been recorded in St Catherine, with eight occurring in the Rio Cobre, including five that have been tagged to Windalco in July 2011, July 2018, October 2019, August 2021, and the current crisis. But despite admitting to a spill from an effluent pond last August, the company denied liability for that fish kill, saying it was “confident that the spillage did not have any deleterious impact on the environment”.
The company has been prosecuted four times for breaches over the past decade, paying a “substantial” fine at least once, the National Environment and Planning Agency (NEPA) previously told The Gleaner.
NEPA said the water quality in the Rio Cobre has improved since last week’s incident, but it is awaiting word from the Ministry of Health to determine whether it is safe to use for domestic and irrigation purposes.