WHEN word spread that rough and dangerous sea conditions were to be expected along the north-east coast of Trinidad one week ago, it set off a frenzy among surfers and thrillseekers looking for the perfect wave.
Over in Toco and Matelot, in the north-eastern tip of Trinidad, fishermen monitored the waters closely; for them, rough seas translate into lost income.
For the year so far, they have experienced their fair share of rough seas. These men, whose hands are forever callused and whose bodies are permanently darkened because of the constant exposure to the sun, can predict rough seas long before any bulletin makes the news.
They have lost boats and nets to turbulent seas. They lost income on the days when venturing out into open water meant risking one's life. And in past years they have lost fellow fishers to rough waters.
In February, large waves overturned a fishing boat in the vicinity of the lighthouse, luckily the men thrown overboard swam safely to shore.
The days after that, fishermen were reluctant to head out because of the rough waters, said Clint Williams, a fisherman and Toco resident for his entire life. Ironically, these fishermen suffer most damage to their craft and gear mere metres from the Toco fishing depot.
At the earliest sign of rough waters, fishermen at the Toco fishing depot must haul their boats safely on to land or even as far up to the roadside or risk having powerful waves thrash the boats on to the shore. At the edge of the depot, one can see damaged fishing boats, that were tossed by the waves, languishing on the shore—evidence of what happens when their owners don't get to them before the rough seas begin.
"We suffering plenty damage this month, real losses. You see that boat over there?" asked Toco fisherman Andre Lee as he pointed to a large damaged pirogue on the cramped shoreline. "That not even in the water for ah month and it mash up already."
"If you was here last month when we had real rough seas, the water come up all here,"added Lee as he gestured to a pathway 50 metres from the shoreline.
It's impossible to control the sea but the fishermen say it is possible to control the extent of damage caused by the rough waves.
"We asking for a breakwater," said Lee. The Toco Fishing Depot is located on the east-north-east coast of Trinidad, making it especially susceptible to high seas and strong winds.
A breakwater (constructed out of concrete or rocks) will act as a wall and significantly reduce the intense effects of powerful waves. An offshore breakwater will turn this danger zone for Toco fishermen into a safe harbour. With a barrier meant to break down large waves, fishermen can resort to leaving their boats anchored in open waters, as opposed to hauling them on dry land every time rough seas occur.
"The high seas are our biggest problem. Any weather condition from the smaller islands affects here," said Sahid Mohammed.
Ever since he has known himself Mohammed has been a fisherman. As a child, he fished on rowing boats and became the owner of his own pirogue as an adult. Unable to earn a living by fishing any longer because of an accident which almost cost him his right leg, today his usual perch is a concrete ledge at the depot where he watches the fishermen deposit the day's catch.
Mohammed is in favour of a tyre breakwater. "With a tyre breakwater, we could be making use of all those tyres people throwing away or burning. With a tyre reef, the men don't have to study protecting the boats from the rough seas, boats can go out more times, they can come and go when they want, and that means more fish," he said.
More than two weeks ago, a meeting involving the fishermen and Government agencies was convened where the matter of a breakwater was discussed along with other possibilities—a ramp system where fishermen could haul their boats on to land and/or the extension of the jetty further out into the sea.
"If they put a ramp or extend the jetty we will still have to deal with the rough seas. Only a breakwater could fix that," insisted Mohammed.
People's National Movement councillor for Toco/Fishing Pond Terry Rondon said he has thrown his support behind the fishermen.
"Even though I suggested a ramp system four feet off the ground so that they could pull up their boats, they want a breakwater and so I support them because that will mean that they can sleep comfortably at night knowing their boats are safe," he said.
But Rondon also appealed for better fishing facilities for the fishermen of Toco.
The waters off Toco, Balandra and Matelot yield thousands of pounds of fish every day, said Rondon, and the fishers deserve better facilities. At present there is a large gaping hole in the derelict Toco fishing centre and several 'Keep Out' signs plastered on the walls of the building. Across the building is a red 'danger' tape cautioning visitors.
"These are hard-working, poor fishermen who trying hard to make a living but no one is paying any attention to them. At least give them better fishing facilities," said Rondon.
The fishermen of Toco/Matelot are eagerly awaiting another meeting scheduled for early this week with the Minister of Planning and the Economy Dr Bhoe Tewarie along with his technical advisers to discuss a possible breakwater.