Minister refusal to provide the names of the new trawler licensees opening the door for claims of corruption, cronyism

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Dear Editor:

The Minister of Agriculture has continuously been ignoring calls for an explanation on the granting of two Fishing Licences for Seabob Fishing, and the naming of the Licencees.

This matter was first highlighted by the Guyana Association of Trawler Owners and Seafood Processors (GATOSP), in a letter dated 19th November 2020, to the Minister . The said Minister was reported to be initiating “an investigation to determine how the two new trawling licences were issued” (Stabroek News, 27th Nov 2020. Seafood processors alarmed at reports two new trawling licences issued by ministry.) Since then there has been no report on the status of the investigation.

The GATOSP claimed the issuance of the two new licences was in breach of the current licensing agreement it had with the Fisheries Department of the Ministry of Agriculture. The agreement had caused a reduction in the trawler fleet from One Hundred (100) to Eighty (80) trawlers.

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The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) got involved when it wrote on 11th December 2020, to the Minister “seeking clarification on the context in which the licences were granted.” (Papannah, D. 2020. WWF concerned over new seabob fishing licences -warns of possible loss of certification, industry collapse, Stabroek News.) The Guyana Country Manager for the WWF Guianas, Ms Aiesha Williams “expressed concern over the reported issuance of the new licences in a manner that could have “deep implications” for the country’s ability to maintain its Maritime Stewardship Council (MSC) certification over seabob.” This hints at the possibility of Guyana losing its MSC certification which was obtained with the aid of the WWF. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) lists Guyana as the largest seabob exporter globally, and Guyana is already under international scrutiny over how it manages this fishery resource. This Seabob industry is Guyana’s only certified fishery sector and it needs to be protected.

Ms Aiesha Williams, pointed out in her letter that a recent stock assessment of Guyana’s seabob population revealed that it is fully exploited and it is at the point where the population curve is at the maximum sustainable yield.

“Any further increase in fishing effort will lead to overfishing and possible collapse of the industry, since the removal of individuals (seabob) is equal to the number of recruits (offspring) entering the fishery (deaths = births), from a fisheries management context,”

She also stated that the sector is a closed fishery with 87 licensed seabob trawlers from which the current harvest control rule is calculated. Any change in the licensing to increase fishing will “therefore push the Guyana Seabob fishery industry beyond the sustainability limit”

Unfortunately, all of this appears to have been missed or sidelined by the Minister as he has granted the approval for the two licences, without any consultation with the GATOSP, which consists of the industry’s experts and those most affected.

This is not the style of management expected by the Ali Government. This type of management is very high handed and has a “don’t care”attitude. Gone are the days when Ministers could do whatever they felt like without any repercussions. The Guyanese people are no longer docile. When the said Minister refuses to name the licencees when asked to in Parliament, he is thumbing his nose at the 227,016 persons who did not vote for his Party. We would like to know the names of those who were granted the licences.

The Minister, by refusing to provide the names, is opening the door for claims of corruption, cronyism and nepotism taking place again in a PPP Government, the previous two of which were filled with such accusations.

The Minister said, “There is equally no requirement to consult with the trawler owners and seafood processors for the grant of new licences.” This is the attitude we must demand our Government(s) move away from. No Government should be making decisions which will affect an industry, without first consulting the stakeholders of that industry. We are NOT a dictatorship. The Minister is also on record as saying that some of the existing licences are dormant or inactive. If this is indeed the situation, the Minister should first revoke those Licences which are not being used or have not been used during the previous 5 years, then issue the new licences, keeping the number of trawlers within the agreed quota for the sustainability of the industry.
It is my suggestion that the management of the Fisheries Department, not the Minister, get together with the GATOSP and decide on whether there are any unused, inactive, dormant fishing licences. Reasons should be given why these licences are in their present state and what is the possibility of them becoming active in the very near future. If there are no valid reasons given, the owners of those licenses should be given a warning with a timeline, that they may lose their licenses if they do not reactivate them.  The Fisheries Department can then make recommendations, agreed upon with the GATOSP, to the Minister who can then issue new licences if needed.

Regards
Jonathan Yearwood



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