River Bay Fishing Village takes on alternative livelihood for spear fishermen
Karrie Williams, Hospitality Jamaica Writer
For years, fishermen at the River Bay Fishing Village, Montego Bay have engaged in the illegal practice of spearfishing as a primary source of income. Today, they are being provided with several alternative options for economic advancement.
Under a $500 million initiative spearheaded by the Montego Bay Marine Park, through financing provided by The National Environmental Planning Agency, the Government of Jamaica, the European Union and the United Nations Environmental Project, a new day has dawned as the men embark on preserving and fostering a greater level of sustainability for the environment.
Explaining the impact of spearfishing on the marine environment, director of the Montego Bay Marine Park, Hugh Shim, said the practice destroys the reefs, "and renders an adverse impact on our climate change and environmental sustainability efforts".
Shim told Hospitality Jamaica, "Having acknowledged this, we also saw the need to provide alternative livelihoods for these fishermen, as we feel that is the only way we can get them to comply with the sustainability levels that we want to achieve."
Under the developments which have occurred, the fishing village is being transformed into an eco-tourism park. Already, there has been beautification work done to enhance the aesthetics. This has been complemented by the construction of two new restaurants, drainage, the installation of a garbage skip and paved walkways.
Another important component of the project was to facilitate training of the fishermen on environmental stewardship and entrepreneurship.
Shim noted that the new restaurants were at the forefront of the alternative livelihoods project; they will be operated by the Montego Bay Fishermen's Cooperative.
"Ideally, we want to see the Fishermen Cooperative managing the operations of the restaurants and the overall fishing village independently. However, I do feel that monitoring is needed in the short term to assist the fishermen in their transition to this new livelihood and to provide any additional training and support that may be required," Shim noted.
"The Montego Bay Marine Park is committed to assisting them in any and every way that we can," he added.
He pointed out that as a result, the Marine Park will also be approaching donor agencies to assist in providing funding for this all-important monitoring phase.
Shim said his vision was to see the fishing village fully transformed into a sustainable tourism attraction that will add value to the lives of the fishermen and other marine interests who use the village.
"The River Bay fishing village holds immense potential for sustainable tourism," Shim noted. "Already, we have hosted bird-watching tours for schools, and through the alternative livelihoods project, we have trained the fishermen on providing glass-bottom boat tours for tourists. Along with all of this, we have also partnered with Man B's Special Museum and Cultural Bus to offer historic tours."
Man B's Special Museum and Cultural Bus is fitted out with images and artefacts of old-time Jamaica that makes for an interesting and informative tour.
At the handing over ceremony held last Friday at the fishing village, deputy director of the Planning Institute of Jamaica, Claire Bernard, shared Shim's vision for the development of the village.
"We don't want hustlers, we want you to see yourselves as entrepreneurs because that is what you are," Bernard told the fishermen. "This can be a main place for entertainment and events and become a wonderful example for the Caribbean to follow, a fun place where people can come to have a drink, have a fish and visit the museum."
Along with Shim, Bernard also warned of the repercussions that would result from overfishing.
"Both the agriculture and tourism sectors are climate-sensitive. If we begin to lose our reefs and coastlines, our fisheries resources will also become depleted. This will affect our fishermen who will soon find out that there is very little fish to depend on," she said.
In a study done by renowned marine scientist, Dr Karl Aiken of the University of the West Indies, Mona, it was revealed that spearfishing posed the single greatest threat to Jamaica's marine biodiversity. Aiken said that unless much more is done to safeguard Jamaica's marine animals, their future and the economic welfare of those who make a living from hunting them will become murkier.
Retired fisherman, William 'Busta' Haughton, who operated from the fishing village for more than 40 years, tells Hospitality Jamaica why the alternative livelihood project is such a positive initiative for the park.
"I definitely want fishing to be limited because if it continues, soon there will be no fish left in the area," Haughton said.
He also made reference to the fact that in some foreign countries, overfishing is an offence that carries stringent punishment by law; and said he would also like to see the same happen for Jamaica.
Established in 1992, the Montego Marine Park Trust has, as its primary mandate, to protect and restore a healthy ecosystem for the betterment of Jamaica and the world. In 2001, the World Bank estimated that the Marine Park could see potential earnings from tourism of US$250-650 million per annum. Eight years later, in 2009, the Organisation of American States downgraded this figure to US$47 million per annum.
While Shim acknowledges that the figures have fallen, he maintains that the potential for tourism earnings is still significant; but highlights certain ongoing challenges facing the Marine Park.
"The issue of funding is of significant concern to us," he said. "Without discounting the help that we have received in the past, I must also highlight that we will need additional financing moving forward to continue the work of the marine park, and especially to implement a monitoring and upgrading phase to the alternative livelihood project."
"In addition to funding, we also face patrolling challenges as our marine police are inadequate in personnel and resources. There is also the issue of pollution which we will continue to try to arrest as much as our limited resources allow," Shim said.