“Fisherfolk Helping their own in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria” By Daphne Ewing-Chow

The Barbados National Union of Fisherfolk Organizations (BARNUFO) just sent six local fishing boats, fuelled by the Food and Agricultural Organization and manned by local fishermen, with hundreds of boxes of food, equipment and supplies, including 720 boxes of medical supplies from Global Medic, to support the ailing fishing sector, its workers and the people of Dominica, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria.

Vernel Nicholls, President of BARNUFO and a volunteer, taking an inventory of contributions. (Photos: Dave Cox)

According to ground personnel from the Food and Agricultural Organization, approximately 40% of Dominican fishing vessels were lost to the Hurricane and many others were severely damaged. A substantial amount of fishing gear was also destroyed, resulting in severely compromised livelihoods and food from the sea.

Capital losses to the sector are high in every major storm. Production is severely impacted and recovery is slow and weak. Many damaged boats and equipment are never replaced.

According to Vernel Nicholls, President of BARNUFO, “One of our primary interests is to take care of the needs of our sector. We know that when there is a disaster, in most cases, because of the fragility of the fishing industry, fisher folk are the ones who are most affected. Barbadian fisher folk are always ready to reach out and assist and this was just one of those times.”

Supplies were generated via public media outreach and with the support of the Food and Agricultural Organization, the Caribbean Disaster Emergency Management Association (CDEMA) and Global Medic.

Fisheries, combined with forestry and agriculture contribute 15% to Dominica’s GDP, and the sector exported over 1 million pounds of fish to overseas markets in 2016. The industry employs approximately 2800 individuals, comprising about 11% of the labour force.

According to Dr. Iris Monnerau, Regional Project Coordinator of The Climate Change Adaptation of the Fisheries Sector Project (CC4FISH) of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in Barbados, “Hurricane Maria has caused significant devastation to the fisheries sector in Dominica. This BARNUFO initiative is so heart warming, as it speaks to the strong sense of kinship among regional fisher folk. The Climate Change Adaptation of the Fisheries Sector Project (CC4FISH) project was thrilled to help with the fuel to make this south-south collaboration possible.”

Fisher folk loading the boats with food and supplies (Photos: Dave Cox)

Dr. Monnerau and her team will be headed to Dominica in a few days, to collaborate with local authorities in carrying out a post-disaster needs assessment of the fisheries sector, in order to support rebuilding of the fisheries sector as quickly as possible.

According to fisherman, Jerome Brathwaite, who was on one of the Dominica-bound fishing vessels, “It means a lot to me to help my Dominican brothers and sisters. Today it is them, but tomorrow it could be us.”

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