The Government has allocated $1.442 billion to the agriculture sector in the national budget—an increase of $400 million for financial year 2023/2024.
A portion of the funds will be allocated to upgrade Trinidad and Tobago’s fishing industry, Minister of Finance Colm Imbert has said.
In his budget presentation, Imbert said the Government plans to upgrade fish landing sites and wholesale fish markets to expand entrepreneurial opportunities and facilitate training in processing initiatives.
This will benefit vessel owners and operators, fisherfolk, vendors, downstream industries and the wider community.
Imbert’s statement may have piqued the interest of fisherfolk across Trinidad and Tobago, and particularly the people living near that multi-million-dollar port in Guayaguayare, where a fish landing site facility remains unoccupied a decade after being constructed.
This is why.
In 2012, the People’s Partnership government completed the project formulated under the previous Patrick Manning administration, aimed at improving the lives of fishermen in Southeast Trinidad.
But the $35 million facility was never occupied and remains a curiosity to visitors to the area.
Fishermen continue to work out of a shanty village nearby, with little resources.
The Sunday Express visited the area recently, where fishermen were operating out of homes built along the coastline.
The boats and equipment were exposed to the elements and vandals, they said.
“That fishing facility was not constructed with the fishermen in mind. There was no consultation with us. It is poorly designed and we cannot use it,” said Roger, a fisherman for over 30 years.
Fishermen said the location was not appropriate as they were unable to access the landing site during low tide.
Several argued the harbour was not properly dredged to facilitate landing, and the pier was higher than their pirogues.
The Guayaguayare Fishing Port was part of the Port of the Galeota Phase 1 Project, constructed by the National Energy Corporation (NEC) to provide the fishing community of Mayaro and Guayaguayare with a space to carry out fishing-related activities.
In this area, the fishermen would also be able to repair boats and nets. The site, unused for a decade, has fallen into disrepair and fishermen are pleading with the authorities to intervene.
“This place can be used as an ice station for the fishermen, a market, and so many other things. But it is just being left there to deteriorate and fall apart,” one of the fishermen said.
‘Deficiency in foresight’
Speaking with the Sunday Express, Mayaro Member of Parliament Rushton Paray said despite persistent efforts to advocate for a repurposing of the Guayaguayare facility, nothing has been done.
He said, “It is my firm belief that a shift in administrative leadership is essential for the revitalisation and productive utilisation of projects such as the Guayaguayare Fishing Port.”
This facility, Paray said, was testament to the shortcomings of the People’s National Movement (PNM) administration.
“Its deterioration mirrors the decline seen in our road infrastructure. This situation underscores a notable deficiency in foresight from the Ministry of Agriculture, as evidenced by the now dilapidated state of the facility,” he said.
Paray said although the initial plans for the port were formulated in 2009 under the Manning administration, it was the Partnership administration that completed both Phase 1 of the Galeota Port upgrade and the Guayaguayare Fishing Port.
“Unfortunately, the poorly designed piers have caused significant challenges for fishing vessels as they are too short, making it almost impossible for the boats to berth during low tides,” he said.
Paray said local experts had noted the construction of the Galeota Port Complex had altered the water and tide behaviour, exacerbating berthing problems, and subsequent disrepair had left the fishing port in “a state of utter disarray”.
He said the facility had been allowed to deteriorate, with vandalised equipment, weather damage and general neglect further compounding the problem.
As a Member of Parliament, Paray said he had addressed the issue with the then-minister of agriculture Clarence Rambharat, to explore public-private partnerships that could have given the facility a new lease on life.
“Potential ideas included converting the Guayaguayare Fishing Port into a tourism landing site, a weekend up-market, a weekend cultural entertainment site, a tour operators’ facility, and even a family fishing pier,” he said.
But despite several attempts, Paray said, the proposals fell on deaf ears, and the facility was allowed to decay unchecked.
“When coupled with the abandonment of the Ortoire Fishing Facility, it is clear that this administration is unable to envision a future of Trinidad and Tobago that is economically sustainable, innovative and thriving,” he argued.
Through its Fisheries Division, the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries (MALF) is responsible for overseeing all matters related to the sustainable development of the fisheries and aquaculture sector.
In a recent interview with ministry officials, the Sunday Express was told options were being explored, including public-private partnerships, new models and service options to ensure the site is adequately utilised to benefit the local community.
The ministry states online, “The Fisheries Division continues to offer assistance to the fishing community through various programmes, including training and capacity building in safety at sea, engine repairs, fish handling and processing.”
The Guayaguayare Fish Landing facility was constructed by the NEC and handed over to the ministry in 2017.
The ministry stated the Fisheries Division maintains an open dialogue with all stakeholders, including the fishing community of Guayaguayare.
The ministry’s technical officers were aware of the sentiments expressed by the fishing community concerning the site, it stated.