Safety net for fishers

Jamaican fisherfolk have finally landed a safety net.

For the first time registered fishermen and women will have access to insurance coverage for their fishing vessels and accessories, stemming from a partnership involving Advantage General Insurance Company Limited (AGIC) and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries.

Speaking at a press briefing recently, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Floyd Green announced that some 26,000 registered fisherfolk will benefit from a policy dubbed ‘Safety Net,’ which provides coverage for accidental physical loss or damage to the fishing vessel and its accessories, including theft of the vessel or outboard motor.

“This Advantage General Safety Net programme is the first of its kind. It’s the first that artisanal fishers will be able to go into an insurance company and take out a policy to protect their fishing vessels. And as you have heard, it protects them against a wide array of perils, it protects them both at sea and on land. And even when they put their vessels to be repaired, there is a level of protection,” Green said.

The policy also protects fisherfolk in the event of damage to fishing vessel and its accessories by fire, explosions, malicious acts and natural disasters.

But most importantly, Green argued, it is affordable.

“For as low as $45,000 a year, our fishers will be able to access insurance coverage. I am happy. I am happy because it really liberates our fishermen and women. Part of the challenge is that oftentimes when they want to access other financial solutions, want to go to the bank to get a loan, and they have already invested millions in their boats, the banks say to them quite frankly, ‘is your collateral insured?’ And unfortunately, they have to say no.

“Now they can say, ‘Yes, it is insured’ and that will open up a new slew of financial solutions for our fishers. Plus, quite frankly, it gives them the sort of certainty in business that is critical. It not only gives them greater security, it gives them greater accessibility to the things they need to enhance their business.”

Junior McDonald, an Old Harbour Bay fisherman of four decades, lost hundreds of thousands of dollars during the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season. When he heard of ‘Safety Net,’ it was music to his ears.

“Normal fisherfolk like me have like 40 traps… that is the net we use to catch fish. Other fisherfolk can have many, many more. The last hurricane season, we lost houses, storage rooms, boats got damaged… we had a lot of damage because it was unlike any other hurricane season we have ever seen,” McDonald told the Jamaica Observer.

“The situation is that fishermen are always left to fend on their own. The demographic to which we belong is never ever considered eligible for insurance coverage. We fish in a open hull boat and they would say the open hull isn’t eligible for insurance because it doesn’t have a house on the boat.”

Added McDonald: “I’m glad that the minister really acted on our request and that the insurance company also really sat and considered how we could be integrated, and even offering some security.”

In the meantime, AGIC vice-president ,Underwriting and Channel Management, Ruth Cummings, said the company is happy to be a part of the historic and well-deserving moment for fisherfolk. She cited natural disasters as a major deterrent to the entrepreneurs.

“Last year was especially difficulty for our fisherfolk. Heavy rains during, and even outside of, the hurricane season resulted in extensive damage for them. For this reason, we believe it is important that fisherfolk are protected and have peace of mind as they go about their business,” Cummings said.

“It is my great pleasure to introduce insurance coverage that has been created especially for this indispensable group,” added Cummings.

In addition, Green said announcing the insurance coverage was a great way to kick-start International Fisherman’s Day (IFD), which is celebrated annually on June 29.

“Today is a very, very good day. I can’t think of a better way for us to kick off a week of recognition and regard for our fisherfolk, than by presenting them with access to affordable insurance solutions.”

Back in 2020 while he was a state minister in the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries, Green said fisherfolk complained bitterly that no matter how they tried, they could not insure their vessels.

“We sat down and we said it makes no sense. Quite frankly, things that are high risk are being insured and the fact that our fishers, the vessel is their primary vehicle of their trade, it is critical for them to have that coverage,” he said.

In June 2020, Green embarked on an islandwide tour where he found that in all 14 parishes, fishermen and women lamented the unavailability of insurance for their vessels.

“I said to them that I am very sure that it is not beyond us to find the collective will to get this done. And as such, that started a series of meetings and we called in a number of insurance companies. We went near and far, and we brought in everybody one by one and I said, ‘listen, we have a challenge’. We can now see that Advantage General has answered that call.”

But AGIC also unveiled ‘Agri-Gen Pak,’ an exclusive offer to farmers and fishermen, where a car or home insurance avails them a 10 per cent discount. Further, if a farmer or fisherman insures both their car and home, they benefit from a 15 per cent discount on both.

“What Advantage General is really saying, is they are the one-stop shop for farmers and fishers to insure their property. And I think that is a step in the right direction,” Green said.

He underscored that the next step for his ministry is to arrange crop insurance for farmers.

“We have to set up a system that is more reliable, that is more trustworthy and that can give them a greater level of security. I am happy to say that our discussions are progressing quite well with our insurance providers, in relation to crop insurance.”

Jevaughnie Junior, a Jack Allen District, St Andrew coffee farmer, told the Observer that he is pleased by the attention being given to agriculture workers by the ministry.

“I have been involved in coffee production for about seven years now. Last year, 75 per cent of the crop was lost due to landslides, soil erosion, fertiliser wash off and stuff like that. And basically, if you lose your production, you lose your investment. I have had to rebuild from scratch,” said Junior.

“This year, we’re not bad. The campaign for the price is going great and we are receiving a lot of input from the ministry,” added Junior.

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