Jean-François St. Félix
It is nearly unanimously recognized that fisheries is an under-exploited business in Haiti. The sea contains great economic potential, which, being neglected, is a loss of profit to the national economy. Anyway, the fishermen of “Nan tikòk” (a slum close to Les Cayes) do not tell the opposite.
In fact, for more and more families fishing is the main source of income. However, all types of difficulties genuinely hinder the development of fishing in the area.
Justin Glezil, in charge of a cooperative which unfortunately did not last long, remarks: “The fishing industry is literally neglected by the authorities. No training, no infrastructure, there are only the fishermen with their good will who try something with the means at their disposal.” He further states that an attempt was made to establish an association of fishermen.
This initiative goes back to 1989 when the then Minister of Social Affairs, Mr. Arnaud Guerrier, launched a poverty reduction programme. Assistance was provided during this period, including boats, fishing nets, sinkers and a freezer. But all this did not survive the coup d’état, which took away everything.
Sometimes the fishermen go as far as ‘Anse-d’Ailnaut’ and ‘Les Anglais’, two localities of Haiti’s South-West respectively at 74 and 66 kilometers from the city of Les Cayes. These territorial intrusions do not always please the fishermen from those regions. Sometimes conflict bursts out.
Justin, an experienced fisherman of 47 years old, draws also attention to the fact that foreign ships with sophisticated fishing equipment cross Haitian territorial waters without any fear. He adds that he doesn’t know if there is a law on fishing in Haiti, although he has been in the business for 28 years.
According to him, the fishermen of ‘Nan tikòk’ cannot afford to invest much in fishing. He believes that the cooperative should be restarted, given that it payed off in the past. He insists that the problems relating to training, availability of funds and the purchase of modern equipment must be addressed in an organized framework.
Altogether, there is no other economic activity obliging the fishermen to abandon their trade, a job which most of them have been doing for many long years. But, they all insist on the lack of equipment.
Due to inaccessibility of funds and lack of proper equipment, the fishermen are at the mercy of the agents, who purchase their products at an incredible low price and resell them at high prices in Port-au-Prince, the most important market. In this vicious circle, the purchase of proper equipment is put off indefinitely. A compressor costs approximately US$2,500, they complain.
It is exactly to break this impasse that, since a few months, the Governments of Haiti and Cuba have initiated cooperation in the area of fisheries.
The programme which will be implemented over a five-year period, among other activities provides for technical training of the fishermen, the seeding of our lakes and ponds with 26 million fish larvae and the distribution of fish shelter, made of used tires, in the coastal zone. The first Cuban boats started to cross the territorial waters in February 2000, in the scope of an evaluation programme.
But people of Nan tikòk are already grumbling. Fishermen complain that they are penalized by the presence of these Cuban boats, which swipe up all the fish on their route. Saurel Jean, Michel Laurent, Edouard Silas and Willy Saint-Gilles, all small fishermen confess that they find themselves in the process of being deprived of their sole means of earning a living. They also revolt against the fact that Cuban boats systematically destroy their nets, causing the considerable loss in the order of 25,000 Gourdes (US$1,100). Moreover, they feel very concerned regarding the future of fishing, because these giant boats catch even the smallest fish, making their reproduction impossible.
Agronomist Pierre Guy Lafontant, Director of Natural Resources at the Ministry of Agriculture, Natural Resources and Rural Development, when talking on a local radio station, noted that this programme will benefit the country in general and the fishermen in particular. According to him, this experience will not only allow an evaluation of the potential of natural resources use, but also a transfer of technology in favour of fishermen.