Black River an enduring source of livelihood
For years, the Black River has been the central feature of life for residents of surrounding communities in St Elizabeth and, to date, many families still use the river as a source of livelihood.
Located in the wetlands, communities such as Slipe and Vineyard create a great farming environment, taken advantage of by those cultivating vegetables, cassava and dasheen. Apart from fishing, Vineyard is dotted with cows, as cattle rearing has also been a source of income for years.
Pollock, perch, mullet, snapper and muttonfish are the staples for Chevann Robinson, who has been fishing from the Black River for more than two decades, and is still undaunted even after three crocodile attacks. Fishing is his source of income and it also provides a meal for his family.
The communities of Slipe, Cataboo and Lacovia have been supporting the life of Johana Peart, who has been a shrimp vendor in Middle Quarters for 30 years. After having children, she resigned her job as a domestic helper and pursued shrimp vending to buy her quality time with her children.
Beyond the renowned Middle Quarters, 72-year-old Cleveland Watson, from Cataboo, has been selling his shrimp to vendors on King Street in downtown Kingston. However, his ability to supply three vendors has been downsized to just one as pollution has been affecting the lives of fish and shrimp.
“Usually, mi coulda get the bucket full a shrimp, now as yuh see, it’s less than half,” said the fisherman, after setting his shrimp trap for approximately seven hours. He explained that years of glory fishing are ending in doom as he has had no option but to eat his catch for dinner, whenever he is lucky enough to catch any fish. “Mi set fish pot through the whole year and a one time me ketch one fish out a it,” he added.
While fish and shrimp have become scarce, Watson and Swaby expressed that it is becoming increasingly more difficult to catch either because of excessive growth of river plants that render the shrimp traps and fish pots ineffective. An overgrowth of water lilies has caused blockage to the tributaries and makes it difficult to navigate the river.
However, parish manager from the National Irrigation Commission, Imran Singh, said the claims are foreign to him because they have a boat that patrols the river every day, from Black River to Lacovia, to do the necessary checks. He told The Gleaner that “the main river is cleaned every week, depending on the need, and we have tributaries that are cleaned occasionally. We normally clean them two times per year”.
Leading environmentalist Peter Espeut attributed the excess growth of vegetation to fertilisers washed from farms established along the river. He explained that the bulk of the fertilisers comes from cane fields such as the Holland Estate. While the fertilisers washed from the farmlands enhance the vegetation and provide oxygenation for the plant, herbicides and pesticides, which are pollutants, are also washed from the farms, killing the animals and, by extension, the source of livelihood for others.
With the animals disappearing, the amount of money earned from fishing over the years by 15-year-olds Arief Samms and Asarie Adair, from Vineyard, is very unreliable. Luckily, the boys have been able to collect for their acrobatic dives from tourists that offload for a beer at the Cheese Rock Bar operated by Micheal Samms, Arief’s father.
“Tourists from Treasure Beach come park up here and drink beer,” said Arief, explaining how he earned from his flips. ”The most I earn in one day is about US$50, but some give more than others.”
After growing up there, Samms has used this as a second source of income catering to tourists stopping by and locals hosting parties for Emancipation Day and Easter Monday. “My plan is just to get mi wire up and keep it as a farmland,” expressed Samms, lamenting the changes brought about by COVID. He told The Gleaner that he will be planting crops such as peanut, sweet potato, dasheen and cassava.