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Boat owner calls for revival of fishing industry in northern town

If Speightstown is ever to reclaim its glory days, there has to be redevelopment of the fisheries sector, one of the town’s leading boat owners has argued.

However, addressing a panel discussion at The Alexandra School auditorium last night, Mortimer Clarke said fisherfolk such as himself were partly to blame for the waning state of the fisheries sector, due to their unwillingness to invest and upgrade their tools of trade.

He said this had affected the ability of the sector to develop.

Speightstown fishing boat owner, Mortimer Clarke.
Speightstown fishing boat owner, Mortimer Clarke.

Speaking as a member of a panel, brought together by the St Peter Parish Independence Committee for a discussion on trade, Clarke recalled an earlier time when Speightstown was bustling with commerce, stemming from a bountiful supply of fish.

“You could have called Speightstown a place that never slept, because you had the day boats, [with] no refrigeration, so the fishermen had to get the fish sold,” he recalled.

With the passage of time the industry demanded more sophisticated vessels and more equipment.  However, Clarke said “the people in the north were too tardy in investing in iceboats, so they got left behind”.

Clarke further lamented that today there were not as many as ten iceboats registered in the north of the island, that includes Speightstown.

“Lack of investment by the people of Speightstown, Sherman [St Peter], and so on to get into the iceboat age can be one of the reasons why we have been left behind as far as the fishing industry is concerned,” he said, while suggesting  that the absence of a “proper” landing site was another reason for the decline in fishing.

He said in the absence of such fishermen were forced  to remain offshore and battle to shore with their catch.

“The jetty that is in Speightstown is not conducive for the type of fishing boats that we have in the north. It is an inadequate landing site for the boats. That is why they would continue to go to Six Men’s [St Peter],” he pointed out.

The other panellists were former history teacher Martin Ramsay, businessman and former Barbados Tourism Authority deputy chairman Austin Husbands and resident Myrtle Burnett.

They all supported Clarke’s recollection of the town’s glory days when there was a frequent inflow and departure of fishermen at the Speightstown jetty.

“It meant then that you had a continuous supply of fish, because, although we operated within a fishing season from November to June, what usually happened is that in the hurricane [season] you would have had the seine boats and fellows putting pots.”

A section of the small audience attending  the Speightstown trade discussion.
A section of the small audience attending the Speightstown trade discussion.

He explained, “Pot fish was usually available during the day because the fellows would put the pots early morning so that people could come into Speightstown ten o’clock, 11 o’clock, so that they could get fish to buy.”

Clarke said that Bajans with a taste for flying fish, “depended on the ‘day boats’ which normally come back to shore anytime from two to five [in the afternoon],  sometimes six or later.

“It meant with the fishing industry at that level of development, the fishermen spent a lot of money in Speightstown.

“When the fish came in abundance they waited until the fish were sold. Then go back to sea early in the morning, two o’clock, three o’clock.”

The people coming into town to buy fish and the fishermen themselves combined to give rise to other consumer demands that saw a growth in commerce with business places, ranging from rum shops to vendors of food and goods.

“These places were a beehive of activity because of the fishing industry. The people had money.

“What has happened now. The market is there. It is a nice looking place, but you don’t have any fish,” he said, suggesting that “what is needed is a massive investment, either private sector, public sector-led that you can do proper landing facilities in Speightstown.

“If that is done Speightstown can get back to the stage that it was at in the ‘60s. It can rival Oistins.

“If we get adequate facilities for landing fish in Speightstown, boats will come.”

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