Fishermen are calling on the Ministry of Agriculture to pay outstanding fuel rebates owed to them.
Speaking with Guardian Media on Monday, Imtiaz Khan, the head of the Carli Bay Fishing Association and Kishore Boodram, the head of the Claxton Bay Fishing Association, said fishermen are in dire need of cash.
Imtiaz Khan said since the pandemic, fishermen operating at Carli Bay are no longer exporting cutlass fish, which earned them 50 cents US per pound. Khan said fishermen are also waiting on relief promised to them since July 2018 following an oil spill in the Gulf of Paria that prevented them from working for several months.
The Carli Bay Association spokesman told Guardian Media that he spoke with the Director of Fisheries on Monday, who was uncertain if any of the rebates were paid as of September 2019. Khan said the government pays 10 cents per litres of Gasoline and 12 cents per litre of diesel consumed by the fishermen. He said because of heavy bureaucracy, many fishermen have stopped applying for it.
“Even though the Ministry accepts applications, fishermen have to wait very long before they can get ‘a bligh’,” Khan said. “Fishermen are surviving on minimal catches and are now dependent on hampers they receive from the community and businesses.”
Khan said the Proman Group of Companies had pledged to donate 500 hampers monthly for a three month period that commenced in April. He said these hampers will go to the fishermen, their families and vulnerable members of the community.
Kishore Boodram, the head of the Claxton Bay Fishing Association, said the same scenario has played out in Claxton Bay, where fishermen have not been applying for the rebate because of the bureaucracy and the late payment.
Boodram told Guardian Media that fuel prices skyrocketed in the last four years, making it almost unprofitable to fish. Boodram said fishermen have to deal with pirates and are barely earning a living.
“I don’t see another generation of fishermen coming out of Central Trinidad because of the unprofitably of the industry,” he warns. “In addition, no steps have ever been taken to establish a fish canning and preservation industry in T&T, which heavily relies on salted, smoked and canned fish from Canada and the Far East countries.”
Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Clarence Rambharat said the fuel rebates are paid when his ministry receives funding. Rambharat said fisherfolk have been able to operate undisturbed since the start of the COVID-19 regulations period. He said if fishermen are facing challenges for cash and food, they can access support provided by the Ministry of Social Development.
Minister Rambharat reports that fish markets have been opened.
“I was in Mayaro and Otoire yesterday and fish prices have not dropped,” he told Guardia Media.
Reporter: SHASTRI BOODAN