Landowner looks to evict waterfront fishermen

Cayman's fish market on the waterfront in George Town. - Photo: Taneos Ramsay

The owner of a parcel of George Town beach used for years by local fishermen as a fish market has filed a writ with the Grand Court to bar them from using the property.

A writ, dated 13 Nov., names Charles Morgan Wood, Robert Prendergast, Lindo McGown and others as the defendants.

In the writ, property owner Chris Johnson claims the defendants are trespassing and illegally carrying out a business.

“The Defendants are engaged in business in the resale of fish on the Property (the Defendants do not catch the fish that they seek to sell on the Property),” claims Johnson, in the writ. “They do not possess the requisite trade and business license permitting them to engage in this business.”

The writ says the defendants process the fish on a wooden table on the property where there is no running water, electricity or bathroom facilities.

Johnson alleges, in the writ, that the fishermen are therefore in violation of the Public Health Law (2002 Revision), and the Department of Environmental Health’s guidelines for the operation of temporary/itinerant food facilities.

Johnson also claims that by occupying his property the fishermen have caused him to suffer loss and damage, “more particularly the loss of the use of the Property, damage to the Property and the risk of claims arising from the Defendants’ unlawful actions on the Property”.

Wood, Prendergast and McGown have all denied the allegations laid out in the writ.

“I am not breaking any laws. In fact, all these years, I’m the one who has been paying to keep this place clean,” said Prendergast. “When the storms come, I have to clean it, when the seaweed come I have to pay to get it clean.”

McGown, 67, said his father taught him to fish on the beach, when he was child, and for almost 50 years he had depended on the spot to make a living.

“I’ve been selling fish out here for 47 years, long before Johnson even bought the place,” said McGown. “In fact I didn’t even know he owned it. All this time, I thought it belonged to the government.”

“What about our rights?” asked Wood. “How can he be allowed to just come and throw us off the land like that, after all these years?”

Graham ‘Tubbs” Rankin, a loyal patron of the fishermen, said they are not just fighting to preserve their livelihoods, but they are also a part of the charm of George Town and the country’s culture.

“It’s time that someone stands up and do something, not just with their words but their actions,” said Rankin. “We are fighting to keep beach access for all, and even the fishermen are being thrown off the beach.”

Johnson is asking the courts to return a declaration that the defendants are not entitled to enter or remain on the property; to issue an order for the possession of the property; to issue an injunction restraining the defendants, from entering or using the property; and to award damages and costs.

Johnson’s call for eviction, is being met with strict resistance from all the fishermen.

“The gloves are off, and the negotiation time is done,” said Chris Moore. “Johnson needs to know that, all of us fishermen are not going anywhere.”

The writ states that the fishermen have 14 days to reply to the court, and confirm that they received the writ, as well as their intentions.

The writ states that if the defendants fail to return an acknowledgement within the required time, then “the Plaintiff [Johnson] may proceed with the action and judgment may be entered against [the defendants] forthwith without further notice”.

The fishermen say they have have not received the writ, and at this stage they have reached out to the government for assistance.

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  1. The fish market in Red Spot Bay has operated there as long as I can remember and I have been here over 50 years.
    Many artists and photographers have documented this location. It feels like this market is deeply part of our culture and heritage.
    With all the changes, it is one of the few places that has remained the same – it is George Town. It is a place where people come together in the capital. Not just a few fisherman – almost everyone has walked down to the market and either bought a fish or looked in wonder at the amazing sight with the deep blue sea in the background.

  2. This is part of Cayman’s heritage and charm, to remove them is destroying yet another thing that made Cayman the desirable destination it is today. Do we really want everything to look like any other waterfront around the world! Seven Mile Beach has already lost almost all of what made Cayman a unique destination. Mr. Johnson shame on you instead of spending money to evict them you should have had your attorney draw up an agreement to come to some agreeable terms of use and liability!

  3. Completely agree with Simon and Carli E’s messages above. Grand Cayman has lost so much of its originality and laid-back charm in the last 20+ years, albeit it is still a fab place. The fish market has been there since I first ventured to GC in 1976. It would be such a shame to lose it. Running water?? It is right next to the sea.
    If, as Mr McGown says, he has been preparing and selling fish at the fish market for 47 years then one would hope that he and the others can successfully claim title by adverse possession against an incomer. If Mr Johnson acquired the title recently then he will or must have known that the fish market has been there for a long long time. And, more importantly, that his purchase could be subject to the fish vendors’ rights.

  4. I’m just an annual tourist, having visited Grand Cayman every year for at least two weeks per year since 1992. But I will say that the fish market in downtown Georgetown has been a staple and a highlight of every trip that my family has made. We buy fish from these men four or fives times per visit. This experience and the scene surrounding it is quintessential Cayman. I can’t imagine visiting Georgetown and not stopping by to browse, chat, and purchase from these genuine and hard-working people. I truly hope that something can be done to stop this, and if not, that the fisherman will at least be offered a fair and suitable alternative. Letting this tradition and Cayman experience disappear would be tragic for so many reasons. I’ll be following this story closely and with hope.