Tobagonians are lovers of fresh fish and the population on the island has grown accustomed to seeking out the daily catch from the nearest fish market or roadside vendor, where they haggle with fish vendors.
The concept of purchasing frozen fish in Tobago is unspeakable and some may consider it a joke if one asks because of the availability of fresh fish, most times within walking distance.
Like Trinidad, there are also mobile fish vendors selling fish out of the back of vehicles.
However, things changed when CoVID-19 regulations came into effect in March, forcing most people to stay indoors. The fishing industry has been hard hit because of the lack of customer traffic and the reduced spending power of those consumers.
Fish vendors operating at the Pigeon Point Fish Market and at Black Rock, where community-style fishing is still practiced, told Tobago Today of their struggles since the COVID-19 lockdown measures kicked in.
Vendor Gwendolyn Mc Millian, who operates out of the Pigeon Point Fish Market, said the police were proving to be one of the biggest hindrances to their trade during the lockdown measures.
She was saddened to learn that customers were being chased by police whenever they entered the Pigeon Point Road to make purchases. Mc Millian said she was at a loss as to why the police were chasing the elderly customers in particular and people seeking fresh fish. She appealed to them to allow customers access to the facility.
Mc Millian said there were usually seven vendors operating at the fish market but now there are only three who sell fish between $20-$30 a pound, plus a $3 cleaning price per pound. She said the market opens from 9 am-5 pm and usually absorbs all of the catch.
“It slow so we have to cope with the fisherman. Right now the fisherman willing to go to the sea but we don’t have anybody to buy and we have to go outside they and try to make a dollar. If the people don’t have the money to buy fish we go loss,” Mc Millian said.
She said she has also resorted to taking orders by phone and dropping off fish to her customers. She said there were also several customers from Trinidad who would come to Tobago on weekends and purchase frozen fish to take back to Trinidad.
At Black Rock, fishermen use boats and a quarter-mile seine net to haul in their catches. The seine is operated by a group of individuals who tow the net out into the bay and then regroup to pull the net back on to the beach, where the catch is collected.
Everold Duncan, the owner of one of the nets, said he has been fishing for decades. Duncan said he was mindful that people were now limited in their movement and available cash due to COVID-19. He said he takes the fish out into the community where it can reach customers and does not mind reducing his price to meet the pockets of the people.
Duncan said at a time like this we all must seek to assist in whatever little way we can.
THA Secretary of Agriculture Hayden Spencer lauded the fishermen for trying to provide fish to the people of Tobago. He said he would look into the matter of why the police were chasing customers from the Pigeon Point area. He admitted, however, that fish markets are operating under strict hygienic regulations that ensure physical distancing and the use of masks and sanitisers.
Contacted on the issue, head of the TTPS’ Tobago Division Vernon Roberts said he was unaware of the matter but promised to look into it. However, he said he understood why the officers may have been chasing people from entering the Pigeon Point Road, noting they wanted to prevent people traffic as bathing on the beach is banned in keeping with the COVID regulations.
“However, persons are free to enter the road to purchase fish. They must also practice social distancing when doing so,” Roberts told Tobago Today.