Fishers and local fishmongers by the hundred from villages all over the South-East of Mauritius gathered at the Lakaz Peser centre in Mahebourg. They assembled there, in the hall, outside the hall, looking in through the hall windows to see and hear what the Fishing Minister had to say in reply to their demand for the Rs. 10,200 Solidarity allowance to be restored. Last month, this allowance was cut. This allowance given to fishers and fishers following the Wakashio oil spill disaster, has allowed fishers and local fishmongers to subsist while fishing activity is not possible in the sea in their usual fishing area.
When at the end of December 2020, they realised the allowance had been drastically cut to Rs3,600 for December and would probably be permanently cut in January, fishers and fishmongers in each affected village of the South-East started organising together with the Komite Konzwin (Joint Committee) of unregistered fishers of the South-East and LALIT Curepipe-South Regional, and the Fishers union leader, Judex Rampaul. This is how the Front was formed. A delegation of some 60 fishers and fishmongers, the Joint Committee and the leader of the Fishers union organised and went to Port Louis to demand a meeting with the Fishing Minister on Thursday 7th January. The Minister and senior Ministry officials finally met with members of the delegation. The Minister said that he would raise this question in the Cabinet of Ministers on the 15th of January and would come in person to Mahebourg on Monday 18th January to transmit the government's reply. The delegation of 60 fishers and fishmongers, Joint Committee members meanwhile gave a report back to fishers in each village. So this is how this unusual Assembly of fishers and fishmongers came to be.
In this gathering, Fishing Minister Maudhoo announced that following the meeting he had with a delegation of the front on Tuesday 7th of January:
* The Rs 10,200 Solidarity allowance that was cut in December would be restored as from December and will continue to be paid to fishers and fishmongers until the lagoon is open for fishing. This decision, he said follows the meeting he had with the fishers and fishmonger delegation. He admitted that the government had not taken into account how fishers would get access to fresh bait if they were not allowed fishing activities in the lagoon so as to be able to fish outside the lagoon. They had assumed that the allowance would no longer be necessary once the government proclaimed fishing outisde the lagoon could resume on the 12th of December.
Re-establishing this allowance was the main demand of the Front.
The Front had also prepared a memorandum to the Ministry a few days after the 7th January meeting which was used by the Ministry to prepare the Cabinet paper. The memorandum was drafted in English and a Kreol version in both written and audio form so that everyone in the delegation could propose changes to it. The final version was similarly in English and Kreol in written and audio form too. (https://www.lalitmauritius.org/en/newsarticle/2713/after-wakashio-disaster-fishers-and-fishmongers-of-the-south-east-re-organise/).
* The Minister also announced that 500 fishers registration cards would be allocated for fishers who have applied. He added that there would be procedures: only applicants who are not permanently employed elsewhere would be considered, and that applicants who had been convicted for drug trafficking (but not consumers) would not be considered. Applicants would need to follow a fishing theory course and if experienced fishers in off-lagoon fishing vouch for the applicant, they would not need practical training. Registration cards for fishers that don't have one has been a central demand of the Joint Committee of cardless fishers – LALIT Curepipe-South Regional.
* As to compensation, the Fishing Ministry, he said, has adopted the proposal of the Front to demand an interim compensation payment for fishers and local fishmongers. He also announced the his Ministry is working on calculating a fixed sum for all fishers based on reported catch of fishers at local fisheries stations of the region. This, he said, is because the compensation claim, having been registered individually, ranges between Rs. 5,000 (some fishers possibly did not understand what a claim should consists of) and Rs. 500,000.
After his announcements, there were many questions from fishers and fishmongers present. One fisher deplored that fishers were not employed by clean-up companies even though the government had announced that fishers would be given priority for this work. A woman fisher said that fishers should be taken in priority for the new jobs in coral conservation and restoration. Another fisher reported that the Development Bank of Mauritius (DBM) was cutting loan money off the Rs 10,200 allowance. The Minister said he would ensure that the DBM stops this practice.