The blue economy has been identified by the New Democratic Party (NDP) as one of the pillars for economic development for St. Vincent and the Grenadines. The blue economy includes fishing, aquaculture, shipping, deep-sea mining, shipbuilding and repair and yachting. We believe that the blue economy should be central to our economic growth.
President of the NDP and Leader of the Opposition, Honourable Dr. Godwin Friday, in his 2023 Budget presentation, spoke to the government’s poor management of the development of the blue economy. He said, “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. We need to do more. In fact, they put the cart before the horse. They build up the export capacity because now you have a major exporter. And, we have the facility in Bequia called Bequia Seafood Limited. There is an operation in Owia as well, which I am 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 allocated for the enhancement of the tuna fishing fleet. What was accomplished? I do not know of a single tuna fisherman here, certainly not in my constituency who has benefitted from the programme. The only person who does that is actually registered as a Grenadian. And, I know a colleague who exports tuna; basically, he purchases it all from the fisherfolk in Petite Martinique. What has been accomplished with the use of that $1.25 million that was set aside there for the tuna fishing industry in 2022?
The second part of the programme is the Solidarity Fishing Fleet Enhancement. This programme has a budget of $4.4 million and it is mentioned in the estimates on page 494 and in the budget. What does this mean? It is clear that the main trust of the government is developing a fishing industry, which falls under the Solidarity Fishing Fleet Programme because a sum of $4.4 million is allocated to this programme.
The government’s plan for the development of the fishing fleet in St. Vincent and the Grenadines is to be done almost exclusively under this programme, because that is where the real money is going and this is where the enthusiasm seems to be. Of a total of $4.9 million, $4.4 million is going towards the Solidarity Fleet Programme. The fishermen have to go and find the rest of the money themselves to go and invest and to buy and to satisfy the criteria set by the financial institution to qualify for their loan.
I am told that there are other conditionalities that are just not banking: who you should sell to; who you should buy an engine from; who you should do all these things to; are creating unnecessary obstacles for many of the fisherfolk and making it seems not as attractive as it should be.
The Minister said that they got a loan from the ALBA Bank and they are using that to finance the Solidarity Fishing Fleet. That is where the name comes from. There was an article that was published in ‘I Witness News’ about the programme, and I’ll read some of it, because it gives the context as to what is the intention for the industry going forward. He said, “The $4 million will go to our solidarity fishing fleet expansion which will address the challenges to supply that we will begin having because there’s so much demand from Rainforest Seafood, with the facility in Bequia and the facility in Owia, with the new hotels that are being built, and we have the demand for fish growing faster than the number of fishermen.”
Then he says, “So we have been doing a lot of consultation,” this is the Minister of Finance, “in the market, there are some industrial vessels, up to $800,000 U.S. that can harvest 120,000 pounds.” Obviously, that is not for the local fisher folk. He continues, “And there are others that are $300,000 that can harvest up to 700,000 pounds of lobster annually and can do tuna and snapper fishing.” Then he goes on to say, “The important thing now, as fishing and the blue economy is reaching a new phase, is education and training as well as capacity.” He said that the government plans to get experienced captains to work on these vessels and then train Vincentians.
Maybe he can clarify who are these captains. Are these going to be foreign captains? Are these going to be people who will operate the boats on behalf of the government? The government is now going to own a fishing fleet. They are going to be the most advanced part of the fishing industry and the rest of the fisherfolk are going to continue to do their business in pirogues.”
The NDP’s Plan
The NDP believes that we have to build an economy where everyone has the opportunity to contribute. Growing the blue economy will strengthen the country’s economy and create more jobs and opportunities.
The NDP’s plan to build the blue economy as a pillar of the economy includes the following:
* Creating a new Ministry of Fisheries and Marine Conservation;
* Develop the fishing industry to benefit fisherfolk;
* Upgrade fisheries centres;
* Invest in new equipment for fisherfolk;
* Introduce a credit system for fisherfolk;
* Help seafarers obtain certificates for jobs on ships;
* Improve safety at sea using satellite technology;
* Review marine resource management to ensure sustainability;
* Improve ship registry to generate more revenue and jobs
* Redevelop the Ottley Hall Marina and Shipyard to create good-paying long-term jobs.
The NDP is committed to creating an economy where everyone has the opportunity to make a decent wage and sees the blue economy as a key contributor to that vision.