It is easy to understand why members of the fishing community may consider themselves victims of a double-standard that places less value on their lives than on others.
The stubborn official silence in the face of unrelenting violence against those who brave the seas to meet the national demand for fish and other seafood shows a callous lack of interest in their welfare. Given the authorities’ deafening silence and lack of response to the ongoing problem of piracy in the Gulf of Paria, the national fishing community is right to wonder if their lives are valued by those responsible for their safety.
Sunday night’s pirate attack which resulted in the drowning of San Fernando fisherman Andrew Volman is a scary reminder of the danger facing our fisherfolk every time they set out to sea to earn a living. Held up at gunpoint in the Gulf just off La Brea, Volman and a relative were ordered to jump into the sea. While the relative eventually made it to shore, Volman remained missing. On Tuesday morning, a body believed to be his was found at Station Beach along the La Brea coast.
Three nights before the attack on Volman and his relative, Desmond Belfast was fishing off Carli Bay at around 1.30 a.m. when he was held up by five armed pirates who robbed him of his pirogue, engine and fishing net, together valued at $125,000. His life was saved by a group of fishermen who heard gunshots and came to his rescue.
These acts of piracy are not an aberration but part of an increasingly lucrative business for criminals who have no compunction about throwing someone into the sea and watching them drown. Very likely, the criminal enterprise is being fuelled by the trade in engines and the trafficking of people and goods in the Gulf which could be broken up with good solid law enforcement work.
For years, the fishing community has been pleading with the Government to no avail for a serious and structured response to piracy.
What they have got instead is an attitude towards crimes against fisherfolk that is coloured by the perception that they are collateral damage to illegal activity in which they themselves may be involved. A low point in this occurred in July 2019 when then minister of national security, Stuart Young, incurred the wrath of the families of seven fishermen killed off Carli Bay after evoking the drug trade while ignoring requests to visit the hurting community.
Ultimately, it proved to be a case of unconscionable stereotyping when it was discovered that the fishermen were victims of a plot to steal their boats and spring a surprise attack on a gang leader from the sea.
Fishing is an honourable vocation that is an important aspect of the economic and social life of this country. Over 5,000 people are involved in commercial fishing from which thousands of families make a living. Like every other citizen, they, too, have the right to be heard, consulted and protected and not to be pre-judged and ignored as though their lives do not matter.