Oral History and Contemporary Assessment of Navassa Island Fishermen

In this study information was gathered from Navassa Island as well as the coastal regions of the Southwestern tip of Haiti concentrating on the area between Les Cayes in the south to Jérémie in the north.

Navassa Island is a small (~5km2), uninhabited, oceanic island approximately 35 miles west of Cap des Irois off the Southwest tip of Haiti. Although Haiti since its founding in 1804 has laid claim to the island, the United States has claimed it under the Guano Act of 1856 and has since placed it under the jurisdiction of the United States Department of the Interior, Fish and Wildlife Service as part of the Caribbean Islands National Wildlife Refuge. Pirates, mining, rebellions, murders, insanity, gunboats, presidents, kings, kooks and more have all been a part of its history.

The Southwestern tip of Haiti, visible from Navassa on a clear day, is very mountainous with steep slopes. Access to this part of the country by vehicle is extremely difficult and although it is only 140 miles from the capital of Port-au-Prince (as the crow flies) it is often a two day trip. Roads are often only wide enough for one vehicle to proceed, made of dirt, and not maintained; washouts are common. There is no industry or any other type of “organized” work in the area and the region is even more severely economically depressed than most of the rest of Haiti mostly due to its isolation. Most of the people in this area feel that they live in a forgotten part of the country, and to add to the difficulties of living in this area it is often subject to the effects of hurricanes due to its location.

The fisheries at Navassa are extremely important to Haitian fishers. For those who can afford to make the trips it is an extremely important source of income; in spite of the fact that many of the fishers are to varying degrees also engaged in agricultural and other small business activities. Fishing, farming and small (micro) businesses are the major sources of revenue in the region. The vast majority of those interviewed were in a fisheries related occupation and stated that at least 75% of the region’s income was from fisheries related activities. For those families with a fishing tradition it is 100% of the family’s income. One thousand to 1,500 families may be entirely dependent on fisheries related activities (fishing, boat building, equipment repair, gear manufacturing, marketing, etc.) in the region with 300 to 400 fishers frequenting Navassa Island itself when not fishing close to home. The value of the fisheries and related activities to the entire region is estimated to be between USD $5,000,000 and USD $10,000,000 a year. For villages known to frequent Navassa the value of their fisheries and related activities are estimated at between USD $1,000,000 and USD $2,000,000 a year, of which Navassa’s fisheries alone may account for between USD $200,000 to USD $500,000 a year. Exact figures are extremely difficult to come by due to the enormous amounts of variables, including the fact that the fishers themselves are unsure of their widely variable annual income.

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