For residents of Treasure Beach in St Elizabeth, it is not a matter of if, but when, the next fisherman from their community will be taking his last voyage out to sea.
The community has lost 62 fishers to date, but the sea remains the gold mine of the popular village’s economy, as those who continue to cast their nets out in the deep accept their uncertain fate.
Led by the Greater Treasure Beach Citizens’ Alert Group, a monument called ‘Lost to the Sea’ was recently erected to pay homage to residents who met their demise out at sea. But while 62 names have been deemed lost from the mid-1900s, empty slots were also slotted, awaiting the inevitable.
“It will not stop. The dangers are real,” said former fisherman and group treasurer Hursley ‘Uncle Bowl’ Moxam. “When we go out on the seas, there is no guarantee that we are going to return, so there is a lot of risk involved.”
“The families of every fisherman know the risk, but it is a risk worth taking, as fishing is what puts food on their tables and send their children to school.”
While some have been confirmed lost by drowning, others might have encountered other man-made dangers on the high seas, such as armed robberies.
“It is an assumption,” said Uncle Bowl. “We don’t have any documentary evidence, but it is a fair assumption.”
Uncle Bowl was 22 years old when his father lost his life aboard a vessel named Snowboy , which sank on its way to the Pedro Cays. There were 41 men aboard, many of them from Treasure Beach.
“I was on the Pedro Cays waiting for the Snowboy to come from the main, we waited and waited … . The weather was bad, and then we got the news,” he said reluctantly. “My father was a good man who ensured that I and my nine siblings were provided for.”
That was 1963, and while many have lost their lives since, including other relatives, the memory of that fateful day has lingered in Uncle Bowl’s mind.
“The monument serves to remind us of our folks, to honour their lives … It is one of the best things to happen to Treasure Beach,” he told The Gleaner . “It offers a sense of closure, something to show our children and grandchildren.”
According to Estella Ebanks, president of the Greater Treasure Beach Citizens’ Alert Group, plans are now in place to raise funds to protect the revered site.
“We will be erecting a fencing to preserve it from vandalism, and will be approaching private-sector interests in joining us to complete this project,” Ebanks said.
Yet Treasure Beach is not the only fishing village that experiences such unfortunate incidents, but is the first to honour the lost. But for a few, the monument is a source of pain, especially those partners who continue to struggle to make ends meet, having lost their sole support.
“It has been hard, since my common-law husband left and did not return,” said one woman, who declined to reveal her name.
“Persons in Treasure Beach don’t know how tough it has been for me, but the support has been tremendous. I experience mixed feelings when I see the monument, but erecting this monument is a great achievement and is a source of healing.”
Uncle Bowl is encouraging fisherfolk to ensure that they have proper equipment before taking to the seas, such as phones, GPS, a spare engine, and other vital necessities.
With the fishing industry now under threat, and with its banks overfished, many seamen in Treasure Beach have dabbled in farming as a secondary source of income. However, they are hopeful that the Government will take steps to protect the sector and not treat it with scant regard.
LINK ORIGINAL: Jamaica Gleaner