Plight of fisher folk at forefront, says Boyce

If one were to judge from the pronouncements of Minister of Health John Boyce in the House of Assembly this morning, fisherfolk and boat owners in particular, could soon benefit from new facilities or major improvements to existing ones.

Boyce, who represents the island’s most prominent fishing town at Oistins, Christ Church, told the final day of debate on the government’s Estimates for 2013/14, that the plight of fisherfolk would be at the forefront during the current five-year term of office.

Speaking under the head of Agriculture, the former Minister of Transport and Works said the fishing industry needed to be offered a significant infrastructural change.

“One of the first things we can look at is how we can garage … these boats, these fishing vessels during the off season, when it is typical to carry out repairs and remodelling of their ships,” declared the MP for Christ Church South.

“The space at Bridgetown, to say cramped, would be an understatement; and at Oistins, it is just as challenging.”

He noted that the challenges of the fishermen were real, especially when they had to haul up their vessels for repairs.

“The cost, of course, because the facilities at the boatyard at Oistins are so limited, the cost of moving their boats to Bridgetown, indeed the time, the timing to get these boats transported safely to Bridgetown is very challenging,” added Boyce.

The health minister said it used to be a situation where early in the morning, the Licensing Authority would give permission, “but even that now is a challenge”.

“To find a time when the roads of Barbados are free and uncongested for this kind of transportation is an extreme challenge,” Boyce added.

“Then of course, we get to the centre piece; the access to funds for these boatmen to invest in their facilities and find funding to improve them. There was a time when the Barbados Development Bank used to provide this very important financial arm.

“In discussing with the fishermen of course, I get the distinct submission that this opportunity is becoming more and more challenging and they have to line up like anybody else at banking institutions.”

The minister of health said he was of the view that if the Government could do anything to allocate funds at some time in the medium term, he would support such a move.

Boyce noted that “friendly financing” would be an advisable way to go.

“Friendly in the sense that the interest rates are attractive and that some consideration for the timing. You may carry out an $8,000 or $10,000 upgrade of your boat today, but the potential for recouping that is going to be a little further away,” the Christ Church South MP observed.

He said while such financing was no longer available, he thought the minister of finance and the minister of agriculture would love to be able to deal with, “but we all understand the challenges that attend to that kind of solution”.

Boyce pointed out that the sectoral concessions for fuel remained in place, but that the only things Government had been trying to promote was the self management of that fuel distribution at Oistins.

“You constantly get the impression that the cooperation that should exist between the different sectoral agencies which could assist fisherfolk, was not always present,” stated the government MP. (EJ)††

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