The other side of Oistins
by Marie-Claire Williams
Think of the parish of Christ Church and it might be impossible to select your favourite highlight because there are so many. From windsurfing to kitesurfing, a walk along the boardwalk for an encounter with refreshing breezes and lovely beaches, or a visit to the Concorde Experience, Christ Church is attractive.
However, virtually nothing defines this southern parish like the fishing community of Oistins, which bursts into life on Friday nights as vendors, visitors and locals combine to produce megatons of exciting and positive energy.
But sometimes forgotten are the men and women who quietly ply their trade at the fish market. “It’s not easy,” fish vendor Antonia Sergeant-Rowe told Barbados TODAY. She has been in the business for 18 years with her husband, and they were recently joined by their son. She pauses occasionally during the conversation with Barbados TODAY to attend to customers and ensure that her produce is well displayed. “It’s been a learning process; when you go to buy fish, what to look for, what not to buy, how to deal with customers.”
One person who may be able to give her some pointers is retired fisherman Steven Bourne. Bourne was raised in a fishing family so it was only natural that, at age 14, he would follow his father’s footsteps for a life at sea.
“It was pretty much hard in those days so the fishing boats were pretty much the attraction.” He admits that it is a dangerous way to earn a living, but his love for the sea trumps all danger. “When you choose the sea, you fall in love with the sea and then you choose to go fishing, so whatever danger comes you have to take it. You cannot fight the elements.” He reasons that all jobs are “practically” dangerous, citing as an example, window cleaners “going up on six and seven storey buildings” to get the job done.
“That’s dangerous. So our job ain’t no more serious than any other fella job. It’s only that some people cannot take the sea, but you’ve got to be able to take the sea,” he said. For Bourne, a fisherman needs a strong heart to survive on the water, because “if you are not strong, you lose”.
He has had to cope with losing friends at sea, recalling the most recent occasion earlier this year when one of his colleagues went out and never made it back. “We lost a fella earlier this year that went out there on a small boat and he didn’t come back at all.
But the sea was very rough when he went out. Other fellas went with him too, but unfortunately he didn’t come back,” Bourne said. However, he said despite the ups and downs it has been a fulfilling career – one that he has also encouraged some of his own children to pursue.
Indeed two of his sons and a nephew operate Bourne’s four fishing boats now that he is retired. Neil Carrington of Kingsland is a 22-year veteran vendor who has watched the market develop over the past two decades. But he feels the premises need to be modernized.
“We want upgrading right now. We want to move from this 70s and 60s set up that we got, and we go up with the 2000s setup. But we know how it is with the Government so we got to hold on. But we would like to upgrade.
“Right now we need an enclosure, you know. We have real tourists passing through here every day so we want to show them a nice set up,” he said. Carrington agrees that the Oistins fish market is important, not only to the community, but to the overall development of Barbados.