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Thursday, December 20, 2012


To the Choiseul Fishermen, the acronym NICE ain’t too "nice" as it relates to the state of affairs at their pond. They’ve ascribed an almost diametrically opposed meaning (Not Interested in the Choiseul Environment) to the original one (National Initiative for Creating Employment). The fishermen also subscribe to the opinion that the periodic “dredging” which happens at pond from time to time may be equivalent to “sand mining” and therefore may be illegal!

Choiseul may not be known for its creativity and imagination; it may be too small, too hidden, too backward and too rustic to be credited with those intellectual endowments, even ironically when its parliamentary rep is the Minister for Creative Industries and the island’s PM is a native born. But the creative outputs (handicraft, pottery, storytelling, music etc) – not to mention other sublime intellectual achievements - are ubiquitous throughout the length and breadth of the constituency and give credence to our creative endowments.

Yesterday, that creativity was on full display on the big national screen during a historic fishermen’s strike in the village; let me hasten to add that it wasn’t the strike, despite its historicity, that was creative; it was the messages that were portrayed. For example the caricature of NICE to mean “Not Interested in Choiseul Environment” and the equation of the dredging of the pond to acts of sand mining! Indeed, those caricatures run deep!.

I heard the Parliamentary Rep broaching the idea of potential strike action the night before it occurred; but I never realized efforts in that direction were so advanced, so organized and so well thought-out! Even HTS and DBS were on the scene.

The fishermen’s message was clear and simple: “open up the pond, so we can bring our crafts in for reasons of safety and security”. They complained that the lack of access to the pond had brought their distress to saturation point.

Firstly, they believed that their “fibre glass” crafts were unnecessarily exposed to the vagaries of the environment. Secondly, they complained that they had suffered costly damage to the bottom of their vessels. Thirdly, they claimed that the infected and stagnant pond water posed a monumental health and environmental hazard. Fourthly, they were enraged about the ownership and management of the equipment procured on their behalf to dredge the pond. The excavator was parked in the yard of the constituency office while tons of silt inexorably built up in the pond.

The Choiseul Fishermen contend that they have been victims of "conspiracy" and political football under both parliamentary representatives with both “honorable gentlemen” showing little regard and respect for their dignity.

Their President claimed that the Fisheries Cooperative secured a grass roots grant of US$100 000 from the Japanese for the purchase of an excavator and truck. He further claimed that the grant was approved in November 2010 but was never disbursed to the Fishermen’s Cooperative but instead to the Constituency Council.

Meanwhile, the bad situation with the pond seems to have got to its worst point ever; the growth of silt has been taking place at an overwhelming rate and the experts seem to be helpless. The silt has extended outwards (between 60 – 80 ft from the mouth of the pond), creating a new virtual "seabed" extension.  Indeed, that seabed extension has now become a platform that the fishermen use to dock their vessels.

The big issue is: What have the authorities done about the siltation? Amidst claims that the dredging is cost-prohibitive, they have apparently not done much! In an early attempt, they added an extension running parallel to the entrance hoping that it would regulate the dynamics contributing to the siltation and bring relief; but it wasn’t a wise engineering intervention and only made a bad situation worse.

They have also tried more cost-effective measures like “battering arrangements” with equipment operators by outsourcing the dredging in exchange for the dredged sand as payment.

I totally agree that the exercise is cost-prohibitive and it will continue to be, as long as we have not got it right. The ultimate solution is long-term and equally costly. It would entail re-engineering and redesigning from the ground up, factoring in the coastal dynamics as major factor. We perhaps need to re-engage the Japanese and to commission them to work with our coastal engineers. This time we can only hope that due diligence will be observed in the re-engineering and re-design phases. We probably will have to look at the models for Vieux Fort, Soufriere and Dennery which are free from those problems and learn lessons from them.

Perhaps, the time is right for the PM’s intervention – both physically and financially. The PM should pay a visit to the fishermen because I’m of the belief that the current parliamentary rep – just like his erstwhile counterpart - may have “burned his cake” with them. The PM needs to talk to the fishermen live and direct! Secondly, the PM may need to give consideration to an extra-budgetary allocation to bring both temporary and long term relief to the fisherman. It is something he has done before and he has done it very well; and he can and should do it again to calm the stormy waters which potentially threaten to burst the wall of the fisheries pond.

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