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…Agriculture Minister remains tight lipped; says investigation ongoing
A Partnership for National Unity + Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) Member of Parliament, Khemraj Ramjattan on Wednesday turned to the National Assembly for answers on the issuance of two new trawler licences but Minister of Agriculture, Zulfikar Mustapha remains tight lipped on the matter.
Ramjattan has tabled four questions in the National Assembly. The questions for written replies were circulated in the House on Wednesday, December 23, 2020 during the 14th Sitting of the National Assembly.
Ramjattan sought the names of the companies or individuals who were issued trawler licences for the period 2020-2021; whether any due diligence was done ahead of the issuance of the licenses and whether the Guyana Association of Trawler Owners and Seafood Processors (GATOSP) was consulted in any way prior to the granting of the licenses.
It has been more than one month since GATOSP has expressed deep concern about the issuance of two trawler licences at a time when there is global concern about overfishing.
GATOSP is also contending that the issuance of the licences also breach an agreement between the Association and the Agriculture Ministry established pre-2015.
On the sideline of Wednesday’s sitting, the Agriculture Minister, when approached by Village Voice News for answers, declined to disclose the names of the new licensees.
Mustapha would only confirm that the licenses were issued. “Yes, there were two issuance of two new trawler license,” he said.
He further indicated that a “full-fledged investigation” has been launched in the issuance of licences within the Fishing Industry. “I have ordered an investigation, not only in the issuance of trawler licences but other things in terms of fuel. There is the issue where some are renting licences and things like that,” he said.
That investigation, according to the Agriculture Minister, will be completed by the end of this week. He said it is his intention to meet with the Association in the new week to discuss the issues, challenges and solution to move the industry forward.
Meanwhile, in a letter to the Agriculture Minister on November 19, 2020, President of GATOSP, Reuben Charles sought an explanation on the “unilateral” decision taken by the Agriculture Ministry to issue the licenses for trawling for shrimp.
“Limiting the fishing effort by controlling the number of vessels is the most assured way throughout all fisheries in the world of preventing overfishing. Following the catastrophe i.e. the collapse of the prawn fisheries in Guyana, the Association and the Fisheries Department worked out an agreement to decrease the seabob trawling fleet of 100 trawlers by 20% over a three year period (2011-2013). The Ministry also gave the undertaking that no new license would be issued. Noble House Seafoods, Pritipaul Singh Investment, Gopie Investment and private owners all gave up licenses,” Charles explained in the letter to the Minister.
He told Mustapha the award of the licences is not consistent nor supportive of the efforts to sustainably manage the Fishing Industry. “It should be noted that any additional vessels added to the current licensing agreements is in contravention to the law that the Association and Fisheries Department has agreed upon, this also can have the MSC certification revoked since MSC has not been notified about the new licensing arrangements and justification for the increase,” the GATOSP President explained.
Ramjattan has since alleged that the licences were issued to close associates of the Kaieteur Newspaper but both the owner and publisher of the newspaper, Glenn Lall and the Agriculture Minister have rejected the claim.