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Massa God Fish Can Done! – Jamaican New Documentary

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This film is centered on the premise that re-education and enforcement can make significant inroads in addressing the problem of diminishing marine resources in Jamaica.

When Conservancy biologist Nathalie Zenny and Esther Figueroa, a local film-maker, started working on a documentary film about fishers from Jamaica’s Pedro Bank, they knew they already had the perfect title.

Massa video thumb “Massa God Fish Can Done,” Zenny says, her accent drawing out the syllables in the distinctive, musical rhythms of a native Jamaican, “means Master God’s fish can end. It’s a play on ‘Massa God fish cyaan done’, an old Jamaican saying, which – loosely translated – means Master God’s fish can never end. And since Jamaica is the most over-fished country in the Caribbean, the play on words seemed appropriate.”                

The 15-minute film follows the Pedro Bank fishers as they discover Belize’s reefs. In classic documentary fashion, the story is told through the experiences and voices of the fishers – the shock and dismay of the Belizeans as they see the scope of the devastation of Pedro Bank in Jamaica; the wide-eyed amazement of the Jamaicans as they snorkel among teeming fish in Belize’s marine protected areas.

“Belize is one of the more progressive countries in the Caribbean for effective fisheries management,” says Zenny, “and so I wanted to show our [Jamaican] fisherfolk a real-life example. Seeing is believing. I wanted them to experience the number and diversity of fish and the size of fish in other Caribbean countries. The fishers were absolutely astounded.”

The ultimate goal of the exchange was to help them “really understand what Pedro Bank has lost, what Jamaica has lost,” notes Zenny. “It’s one thing to tell stories and quite another to see and touch and smell for yourself the way a healthy reef ought to look. When I talk to the younger fishers, they really have no idea of what things used to be like and should be and can be again. We want them to have a vision of a healthy, sustainable fishery so we took them to Belize.”

The point of making a documentary about the fishers’ experiences and insights, according to Zenny, “was to create a way to share the experience of the learning exchange with as many people as possible as we work to call attention to the current crisis facing Jamaica’s fisheries and other marine resources. The focus is on the Pedro Bank and wider Jamaica, but the film also speaks to the issues [over-fishing, unsustainable development, poor management of marine resources] being faced throughout the Caribbean region.”

In Jamaica, the Pedro Bank is the only place where people can still make a living solely from fishing, “but,” says Zenny, “if management practices of Jamaica’s fisheries don’t change — this will be the last generation to make its living from the sea. We don’t want that to happen. We want people to be able to continue to fish from generation to generation.”

Like the best conservation stories, “Massa God Fish Can Done” is more about hope than it is about loss. In the waters of Belize, the Pedro Bank fishers saw the value of marine protected areas and well-managed fisheries. They saw just how rich their own waters used to be and can be again. With work and commitment, they still have an opportunity to preserve and recover their natural heritage. And the Conservancy, in partnership with the government of Jamaica, is working hard towards helping them protect the reefs and the fisheries that are the foundation of their way of life.

The documentary, produced by Vagabond Media in partnership with The Nature Conservancy, premiered at a small arts festival in Kingston, Jamaica in June 2009. The film is a public awareness and education tool designed to inspire change in marine stewardship and fisheries management. It is available for download and on DVD. For more information, contact Nathalie Zenny.

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