(Excerpts of Dr. the Honourable Godwin Friday’s 2023 Budget Presentation)
After twenty two years, this government now seems to be waking up to the fact of this potential in the blue economy. Madam Speaker, whenever foreign diplomats come to St. Vincent as part of their routine, they come to see me as the Leader of the Opposition. Often I invite my colleagues to sit in with us and we have discussions and one of the things, especially with those countries that I know have large fishing economies and have fishing experience and expertise; I speak to them about this. I’ve spoken to British, I’ve spoken to Japanese and Portuguese, countries that I know that have fishing industries, as to how they can assist us in developing our fishing industry, what kind of assistance they can lend, because we want to see it work.
The blue economy is not just about fishing and I will deal with different components of it. It involves shipping, this is the way the UN has defined it: ship building and repair, coastal tourism, yachting and the minister said deep-sea mining.
I don’t know if we have any deep-sea mining around here. But, we have in our country a tremendous resource in our fishing industry and I’ll begin there.
The government has now been talking a lot about developing fishing, although it doesn’t seem to be taking off in the way that it should. Yes, there is export catch, but I’ll get to that. We need to do more than just that. In fact, Madam Speaker, they put the cart before the horse. They build up the export capacity because now you have this major exporter in Rainforest Seafood, the minister has been calling the name here, so I’ll repeat it, good luck to them. And, we have the facility down in Bequia called Bequia Seafood Limited. He mentioned an operation in Owia as well, which I’m sure was affected during the time of the eruption.
But, all of a sudden we have demand that is greatly outstripping the supply.
In the 2022 estimates, $1.25 million was put there for the enhancement of the tuna fishing fleet. What was accomplished? I don’t know of a single tuna fisherman here and not certainly in my constituency. The only person who does that, the gentleman who’s actually registered as a Grenadian. And, I know a colleague who exports tuna and basically, he purchased it all from the fisher folk in Petite Martinique. So, what has been accomplished? I mean quite clearly there is scope for it here. What has been accomplished with the use of that $1.25 million that was set aside there for the tuna fishing industry in 2022?
What did it mean, Madam Speaker, for example, when they talk about the enhancement of the tuna industry? Who did they talk with? Did they talk to the local fishermen? And, as I said, they couldn’t be really talking about catching tuna because there is still no industry here, except for the odd fishing in skipjack tuna that you might find from guys who go out with the pirogues. Our fisher folk are still spectators in that industry.
I had a very interesting conversation, Madam Speaker, just yesterday with a gentleman who is intimately involved in this industry as an exporter and he was talking to me about the possibilities for himself and for others and what he sees happening in Petite Martinique and how this industry has grown to overtake what the fishermen in Bequia used to say that they used to come there to basically buy boats from them or learn from them.
Now they have overtaken the fisher folk there in Paget Farm in terms of the level of expertise, the catch and the earnings that they make from this industry. We can’t be spectators for much longer. Madam Speaker, we have to be participants.
The Minister of Agriculture has mentioned this to me in a private conversation that there’s money available for fisher folk to buy and to upgrade their fleet. That’s been a long time, but I don’t know whether this has taken off. I don’t have anybody in my constituency certainly, and we have a lot of fishermen here who have at least built a boat or bought a boat to do this sort of fishing based on that loan that was available. So, why the promises and no bankable results? I know that the minister knows people in the industry because he talks to some of the same people I talk with and he knows of their hardship and he knows of their yearning to be better and to do better for themselves and for their families. But, it’s still only promises. As one person said to me, he says, “Mamaguy.”
Now in 2023, we have in the estimates the enhancement of the tuna fishing industry project. Now that project has been replaced. Essentially it says it’s been subsumed under two other projects. This is in the estimates for 2023, the fishing development project, phase two, which has a budget of $500,000 and the larger project, the Solidarity Fishing Fleet Enhancement Program. This, Madam Speaker, is where the trust seems to be when it comes to enhancing the fishing fleet. At page 12 of the minister’s statement, he noted that there is a loan facility that Minister Caesar launched with the Kingstown Co-operative Credit Union to help fishers to secure affordable loans and that the government will put up a 15% deposit necessary to secure the loan.
The minister said that up to 41 persons have applied and are currently going through the process. Maybe the minister himself, that is not just the Minister of Finance, the Minister of Agriculture might be able to update us. I’d be happy if he said that 41 people have been approved.