Consider this for a moment: imagine that your daily routines and everyday transactions are only obtainable through crossing a rickety wooden plank bridge. Now think of this passageway as your solitary means to obtaining a living and conducting business. Not the ideal situation is it? But that’s the fate which the fishermen of the community of Praslin are now faced with.
Many of the fishing villages across the island boast proper docks with well-equipped facilities including locker rooms in which the fishermen store their fishing gear and supplies. These docks also offer depots where they sell their catch to the Saint Lucia Fish Marketing Corporation; gas pumps for obtaining fuel; and also ice machines for those who prefer to go out and vend.
For the fishermen of Praslin it is not so. They have to traverse two wooden, unstable and deteriorating piers or “jetties” to access their fishing boats when venturing out to sea and are forced to use locker rooms battered and abused by Mother Nature.
These jetties, ravaged by the seas for about three decades, are long overdue a replacement. So much so that the fishermen have been slipping through the boards and injuring themselves. Just recently, a young fisherman returning from a day at sea, went through one of the weak boards damaging his left thigh muscle in the process.Over the years, governments have come and gone, likewise their promises to construct a new dock in the community, but the outcome has always been the same: temporary repairs to the wooden structures by the fishermen themselves.
I recently spoke to the man who built the very first jetty in the area, 75-year-old Mathew Ferdinand, a former fisherman, boat builder and baker, who is now a kitchen gardener.Ferdinand built the jetty in the 1980s and explained that he saw it as a necessity.
“Being that the area is a fishing village and me being a fisherman at the time, I needed it too,” Ferdinand said.
He confessed however that members of the community called him crazy when he ventured upon constructing the jetty, claiming that he was often ridiculed as they thought that he was unable to build one.
“I was the only one who did everything. I sawed the trees to obtain the wood, I carried them to the seaside and built the jetty on my own.”
According to Ferdinand, the jetty took him about four months to build. By the early 90s, with it being used constantly by all of the fishermen, it needed to be built stronger. The authorities promised to work on the jetty, to build a better one but that never happened.
MP for the area Dr. Gale Rigobert says that she has raised the issue of the jetty ever since she became the parliamentary representative. “Because of my engagement with the fishermen, they highlighted it as one of their key priorities, along with their locker rooms which are badly dilapidated. And of course, I have seen for myself, I have been to the site, I have made the plea, asking that the government pay attention to this as it was one of the issues that I highlighted.
“In our fiscal year 2012/2013 in parliament, the budget estimates reflected that we had gotten within the region of a million dollars to erect a jetty at Savannes Bay and in Praslin, and I thank the Minister for Agriculture, Moses “Musa” Jn Baptiste for considering Praslin and responding to my call for assistance. In the first week February of this year, I had a conversation with the prime minister and the agriculture minister again inquiring as to the state of the jetty and whether we are proceeding with the project because the money had been budgeted and as far as I was concerned had been received from the Taiwanese as well. He advised me that, in fact, he had engaged some fishermen and that consideration was being given to the architectural design,” Rigobert explained.
She continued: “During this budget debate I again asked, I said, ‘Curiously, last year I stood here and I thanked the government for the jetty and one year on there is no jetty. And yet again we have another “promissory note”. Because last year I expressed my thanks and this year I’m not sure that I should proceed thanking again, with the jetty still not yet being delivered.’
“I am concerned that though the money would’ve been sourced and had, that I hardly anticipate a jetty coming to be. I find it difficult to believe that it takes all of 14 or 15 months for the project to come into being. Even I initiated discussions with an engineer and in no time he had given me a full feasibility study and everything concerning the work, and clearly this is moving at a snail’s pace.”
To this date, none of the fishing villages within the Micoud district have adequate fishing facilities; the fishermen of Micoud proper still walk into the murky waters on mornings to access their vessels, as their boats are being anchored in the bay.
Meanwhile, the seamen of the Praslin area become more skeptical and pessimistic about this initiative and continue to wonder how many of them are to get injured; or must disaster strike before they can receive a proper facility?