It happens every year as we celebrate Indian Arrival Day. I get phone calls and emails, and it comes up in conversation with friends, colleagues and family.
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Piles of fish, but slow sales
The Lenten season has started off on a bad note for some fish vendors. Vendors from two markets—Tunapuna and Arima—claimed that last December’s oil spill in La Brea still have them fighting like fish out of water to survive. They say consumers are still sceptical of fish safety as a result of the oil spill, which depleted an abundance of fishing stock and wildlife. On Ash Wednesday when Arima vendor Alphie Williams thought sales would have improved at the start of the Lenten season, there were no buyers for his heaps of fish.
“Look at this stall...it like a ghost town. In all my years selling fish in this market, this is the worst. Normally a day after Carnival I be busy selling to customers,” he complained. Williams said even though he purchases fish from the north coast, customers are still reluctant to buy. If sales continue to dwindle, Williams said, he may be forced out of business. “No one is looking at our situation. Our livelihood is under threat.” Williams sells carite, king fish, red fish, cro cro, cavalli, moonshine and shark.
The prices of the fish vary, with carite and king fish fetching as much as $40 per pound. Next week, Williams said, he would offer consumers tilapia, which can cost between $12 to $15 a pound.
Feeling the pinch
“It’s a cheaper fish but I don’t know if people would buy it seeing that it’s reared in fresh water. I am going to take a gamble and hope for the best. I am trying new things to woo customers...but nothing seems to be working,” said Williams. Williams said if demand outweighs supply, the price of fish could escalate before Easter. A few stalls away, vendor Errol La Foucade said while sales have declined, customers are still buying.
“Yes, the oil spill is still having its effect on vendors. But what can we do?” Arima mayor George Hadeed has promised to speak to Williams, stating that he was not aware of the vendors’ concerns. Neville Maharaj, the lone vendor at the Tunapuna Market, admitted on Thursday that business has not been booming for him since the oil spill. “Consumers are generally afraid to buy.... that is the bottom line, and we are feeling the pinch. Even for Lent, fish sales are generally slow.”
Maharaj said another drawback was that the market has no car park facilities for customers. “Drivers would take the chance to stop off at the side of the road to buy a few slices of fish and when they go back to their vehicles they are faced with a $1,000 ticket by the police. Just last week this happened to one of my customers. Do you think that person would come again? You getting lick up all around.”
Maharaj: beware price gouging
Food Production Minister Devant Maharaj said a possible “artificial fish shortage” claimed by fishermen and vendors might be one way to “jack up prices and gouge the eyes of consumers.” In a free market economy, Maharaj said, it would be difficult for Government to clamp down on rising fish prices during Lent. Maharaj said while vendors usually hiked fish prices at this time, there was “no draconian measure” or law to deal with the ongoing issue.
Last year, Maharaj said, T&T began increasing its tilapia production and even took the initiative to import tilapia from Guyana recently to meet the growing fish demand for Lent. While he pointed out that not everyone would have a palate for tilapia, his ministry recently started a demonstration project of inland shrimp farming.