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High operating costs affecting fishing industry

High operating costs affecting fishing industry
All was quiet in the fish market when the Nation team visited on Wednesday. (Picture by Reco Moore)

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Although the flying fish season has officially started, there has been a noticeable lack of the national delicacy available on the market.

Fisherfolk at the Bridgetown Fisheries Complex in Bridgetown say they have been unable to keep up with the demand for fish and have been seeing smaller catches during the season which usually runs from December to June.

Processor Angel Spratt, who has been in the industry for over 25 years, said it was “on life support”. Currently marlin, bill fish, dolphin, red snapper and amber fish were the most available, but flying fish however, remained in short supply.

While many fishermen had been attempting to maintain the current prices, demand is outstripping supply and this has caused the price to increase.

Fisherman Adrian Sobers attributed climate change to the decreased haul.

“There’s not [as] much fish coming in like before… you’re getting cold weather and flying fish don’t swim in cold water,” he explained.

Additionally, it is getting more expensive to put a fishing boat out on the water. Sobers said the cost per trip quickly added up, especially since many relied on their catch to maintain their budgets.

“To run the boats is a big cost because diesel prices rising and falling, then you gotta pay for ice, you got to pay for food, you got to pay for oil. So it’s a big expense on fishermen and also the boat owners. When you gotta put back in $18- and 19 000 dollars in expense in one boat – some boats carry more than $18 000 – and if you don’t catch the fish to pay the expense, then there’s no pay day for you,” he remarked.

High operating costs affecting fishing industry
Boats berthed at the Bridgetown Fisheries Complex. (Picture by Reco Moore)

Sobers added that several boats had also been damaged by the rough ocean conditions last week. The crew of one boat was even forced to return to port early due to extensive damage to its roof.

“All inside of the boat was full of water, they lose their radios and thing like that was a cost on the boat owner because the boat owner now had to turn round and buy new radios, new equipment for the boat for the fishermen to go again, so the boat just went back out this week,” he said.

Boat owner Mark Yearwood said many of his colleagues in the complex were facing difficulty as diesel prices continued to fluctuate. He said that some vessels travelled 400 miles or more at a cost of at least $2 000 per trip.

“We got a problem with the diesel. The 49 cents came off and that’s fine; we will be able to work with it. The thing that we would like to see happen on diesel, is the same way that they have on the tax of the collection for sewage or whatever the case may be on the diesel that it comes off. It may be better because other things impact the industry, but we got to work with it. We can’t do anything about it for right now,” he said.

Many boat owners were implementing technological solutions to combat the increasing cost. Satellite systems have been installed on the boats in order to help fishermen target schools of fish instead of “fishing blind”.

“They get downloads on a map. It tells them where to go to fish, the best possible spots to go to fish rather than fishing blind. It sends straight to where they need to go,” Yearwood said.

Other critical factors affecting the boat owners included the difficulty of importing parts for damaged boats.

“You got to wait three to five days just to get a stamp for you to carry it back to FedEx or any carrier that brings it in, in order for you to get it cleared. The stamp is for you to get the duties off the order,” he explained.

Another issue was the lack of hand held flares on the island. Yearwood explained that every boat was required to have a pack of distress flares for use in emergency situations, however a shortage had also created difficulties for the fishermen.  (JK)

High operating costs affecting fishing industry
Fish being boned at the Bridgetown Fisheries Complex. (Picture by Reco Moore)