Revenue from fisheries in St. Vincent and the Grenadines moved from EC$8.9 million in 2012 to EC$21.5 million in 2020, says Minister of Finance, Camillo Gonsalves.
“That’s before Rainforest got here,” he said Friday at the opening of Rainforest Seafood SVG Ltd.’s processing plant in Calliaqua.
He said that the fisheries sector showed a trajectory of growth unlike other industries in the court.
“… there’s not many industries that I could brag about as a minister of finance or that Saboto [Caesar] could brag about, as a minister of agriculture, to say that between 2012 and 2020 you have grown 125%, you have more than doubled. But seafood is one of those areas.”
He said that the Rainforest Seafood plant was not fully operational but had been “going strong for about four months.
“At this facility, they have purchased seafood from 150 local fishers and in those four to six months, they have already paid to those local fishers over EC$3 million,” Gonsalves said.
“Do the math: 150 fishers put that into $3 million, you get about $20,000 per fisherman. And if you divide it by about four months, this is, obviously, on average, you’re talking about $5,000 a fisherman in the last four months.”
The finance minister said this was “an incredible contribution” to fisheries and the growth of the sector in SVG.
“So we have 80 to 100 people working inside. I spoke to them,” he said of the workers at “Big Blue”, the processing plant’s nickname.
“They are happy, they’re well trained, and they’re well paid for the work that they’re doing,” the finance minister said.
“You have 150 fishers, you have $3 million already spent in the community, the fishing community, and that fishing community runs from Union Island all the way up to Owia.
“You have conch being processed, lobster being processed, ballyhoo being processed, snapper being processed, tuna being processed, and they’re just getting started.”
Rainforest SVG is part of Rainforest Caribbean, a Jamaican company that also has processing plants in Jamaica, Belize, St. Lucia, and Barbados and exports to over 30 countries across the world.
The finance minister said his government has signed with Rainforest Seaford a contract that says, “they plan to put into the hands of local fishers not $3 million, but $20 million annually.
“Imagine the wealth that that will create for fisherfolk all across St. Vincent and the Grenadines. What we’re doing with this $3 million so far is scratching the surface.”
He noted the traditional way of fishing in SVG, where crews go out to sea on mornings, spend a few hours and rush back to shore to catch people as they are going home.
The finance minister said that the fisher catch enough to cover the cost of fuel and to make a couple dollars extra.
“What the demand created by Rainforest Seafood is going to do is catapult fishing from an artisanal profession to an absolute money earner for fishers all around St. Vincent and the Grenadines, because now we have a level of demand that we’ve never had before in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Gonsalves said.
He said that Rainforest Seafood wants to buy $20 million worth of fish a year.
“So I went from $8.9 to $20 million and Rainforest now wants to add another $20 million on top of that 20 million.
“That is a doubling, again, of the fish production here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines. And we have the fish in our waters and we have the talented fisher folk. All we need now is to build capacity.”
The finance minister said the government has been doing a lot of work to build capacity to meet the demand created by entities like Rainforests Seafood.
Gonsalves said that the government has repaired and enhanced the Calliaqua Fish Market and partnered with the Kingstown Co-operative Credit Union to ensure that fishers … will have low-interest loans without having to put down a deposit to expand their fleet, to get another engine, to build a bigger boat.
He also said that Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves has partnered with the Government of Venezuela, through the ALBA Bank for a substantial loan through which the government will purchase commercial fishing vessels to train Vincentian fishers how to fish commercially.
“And that capacity building means more and more local Vincentians making more and more money from selling fish in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” the finance minister said, adding that the good thing about fishing is that it is far more inflation-proof than agriculture.
“Because, yes, the price of your gas goes up. But you don’t have to pay for more fertiliser, you don’t have to feed it, the fish is in the water. The fish isn’t jumping into your fish pot differently, because inflation is 9% or because gas costs $190. It’s still going to jump into your fish pot, and you’re still going to get a good price for it here in St. Vincent and the Grenadines,” Gonsalves said.
He said that in addition to creating demand, “you’re going to create more fisher folk and creating more fisher folk means greater training and greater efforts by the government to make sure that those fisher folk are healthy and safe and doing a good job”.