By Anna Gaskell Observer Staff Writer (Charlestown, Nevis) – The students at St. Thomas” School get fresh fish for lunch. The fish, supplied by the Nevis Fisherman’s Cooperative, is caught off Nevis by local fishermen. This means jobs for Nevisians and fresh brain food for Nevisians. And the financial gains stay right here on this island. That is the principle behind the Cooperative. Nevis can limit the unnecessary importation of fish from abroad – which is costly, polluting, and cuts Nevisians out of much of the money-making process – because it has its own supplies of fish, and its own fishermen to catch it. And with the uncertainty and panic brought on by the current financial crisis, it is becoming ever more important to look to local industries and make them work well for local people. The Fisherman’s Cooperative started back in 1986. It closed down in 2006 and was reopened again this year. The word “cooperative” in business circles implies joint ownership, where the people who work there are also shareholders of the company. The Government oversees the working of the Cooperative, ensuring that it operates under the various Cooperative By laws. The Government also provided the land for the building and a grant was given by CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) to start it up. The Fisherman’s Cooperative is both a supplier of locally caught fish and also a provider of fishing equipment such as lines, hooks and buoys. The fish from the Cooperative is bought by many different people and businesses; local favorites seem to be the pot fish, the hind and the butterfish, while the hotels prefer the easily marketable wahoo, mahi mahi and tuna. There are several explanations offered as to why the Cooperative closed down in 2006. One is that although the principles behind the business were no less sound than they are today, there was no proper data collection system in place. Keeping track of supplies and sales became so difficult that soon the business could no longer function efficiently. According to the current President of the Fisherman’s Cooperative board, Emmanuel Richards, the Cooperative is running better now, but there is always room for improvement. The new team of board members is keen to keep themselves up to date about the day to day running of the Cooperative, according to Mr. Richards. “The board holds meetings regularly with the current manager, William Griffin. The fishermen themselves are always encouraged to attend these meetings and offer their own input, too.””” Another explanation for the closure in 2006 is that the fishermen couldn’t see the advantage of selling their fish to the Cooperative, and preferred to sell their fish directly to the public out on the Bay front. So the Cooperative never had enough fish to sell to keep the business making money. The manager, Mr. Griffin, is well aware that this time round most of the fishermen who supply the Cooperative are still selling their fish in two places. It is simple mathematics: fishermen can often earn more per pound of fish by selling outside of the Cooperative complex. And if the inclination to do this wasn’t already strong at the time of the last closure in 2006, the two years between then and the reopening have served to ingrain this practice even further. According to those who get their fish at the Cooperative, it will only survive and flourish if the benefits of being a member of the Cooperative – the convenience of having others deal with the sales side of things and provide access to duty free equipment – can outweigh the extra few dollars that the fishermen can earn selling on the Bay front. But people are creatures of habit. It will take time for fishermen to see that active membership in the Fisherman’s Cooperative will improve the business, and by connection the finances at their disposal for equipment, refrigeration, and transport. For the general public who buy the fish, the advantage in going to the Cooperative is also about convenience. They might not know exactly when the fishermen come in to shore, nor how to fillet a fish themselves. But the Cooperative has ordinary nine to five opening hours, and staff to cut the fish into fillets so customers don’t have to bother. Mr. Griffin admits that they need more help with cleaning and filleting the fish, especially as this service is something they have over the fishermen who sell their fish on the Bay front. The President of the Fisherman’s Cooperative board, Mr. Richards, believes that the money fishermen get for their fish from the Cooperative amounts to a reasonable wage. But, like Mr. Griffin, he knows that the fishermen cannot be forced to sell all their fish to the Cooperative when often neither the habit nor the economic incentive to is there. They both accept they will get a portion of the catch, and what’s left will be sold at the Bay front. The fishermen’s ownership of the Cooperative is supposed to encourage their interest in its future as a business, but it doesn’t always work out like that. Perhaps the fishermen need to see the results of their financial input in order to continue to support the Fisherman’s Cooperative, which they support (if they do) by buying shares and paying up their monthly membership. The funds the Cooperative needs now would be spent on transport (for deliveries), more user-friendly refrigerators, netting weaves the right size for the fish pots, and better marketing. Mr. Griffin said that there had been recent TV exposure for the Fisherman’s Cooperative on NTV, and soon there will be a chance to talk more about it on the radio too. He himself writes to all the hotels and restaurants and sends them price lists and further information about the Fisherman’s Cooperative. Despite this marketing initiative, which is still not as aggressive as he thinks” it should be, many local people still prefer to get their fish from outside because that way there is a greater guarantee of freshness. In order not to follow the doomed path of the last Fisherman’s Cooperative, this one must concentrate on offering a quality service, both to the public and to the fishermen. Right now they are counting in about 2,000 pounds of fish per week, while they calculate that in order to keep the Cooperative running they will need to increase that to between 3,000 and 4,000 pounds. Mr. Griffin would like them to concentrate on specializing; focusing on bringing in the best tasting and most popular fish. Especially as they”re now discovering that competition has had a chance to build up while the Cooperative was closed. The fishermen will have to see for themselves if being members of the Cooperative is really to their advantage, and if it turns out to be, then this time round the Fisherman’s Cooperative will have a good chance of surviving much longer than the first one. Should it survive, the Fisherman’s Cooperative could become a sustainable local industry which keeps fishermen economically secure and the general public well-fed with the best brain food.
The Nevis Fishermans Cooperative: Past Demons and Future Hopes
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