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…US ambassador urges greater efforts to stamp out illegal, unregulated fishing
By Farah Bates
The United States Ambassador to Guyana, Sarah Ann-Lynch on Wednesday paid a visit to Upper Corentyne, Region Six, where she met with the Upper Corentyne Fishermen Co-op to deal with specific issues including illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing offshore Guyana that has been affecting the fisher folk.
During her visit, Ambassador Lynch also met with the business community on matters regarding COVID management, plans for the future of the Town as well as economic and infrastructural issues.
During a brief press conference at the City Inn Hotel, Line Path, Corentyne, Ambassador Lynch along with President of the Upper Corentyne Chamber of Commerce, Krishnand Jaichand provided an overview on the matters that were raised by the fisher folk in relation to illegal and unregulated fishing and how these matters will be addressed with the best of interest of providing assistance, especially to the fisher folk who contribute greatly to not just Guyana but the global economy.
Ambassador Lynch noted that fishing in Guyana is particularly an important sector, given the fact that it not just only brings in foreign exchange but it creates job opportunities for many, as Guyana has approximately 10,000 fishermen. She further mentioned that the issue of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is a salient one and it must be addressed accordingly, for it affects the environment, the economy and to a greater extent, the livelihood of each fisher folk. Thus, ensuring these issues are resolved so that the fisher folk are paid appropriately and can profit from their trade. According to the US Diplomat, approximately 26 million tons of fish are caught illegally each year; a tremendous knock to the fisher folk since that is money taken out of their pockets and is going elsewhere.
“The fisher folk I met with did mention that the catch is down so when they are out there fishing they aren’t catching what they used to catch. They didn’t specifically mention illegal fishing; one could say that there might be a possibility or perhaps the larger commercial ships that are out there are fishing at such a rate that it is impacting these fisher folk who fish closer to shore. They are concerned and they are watching the situation very closely.”
A bilateral Ship-rider agreement was signed between the US and Guyana when the US State Secretary Mike Pompeo visited back in 2020; however, according to the US Ambassador the issue of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing was added to that agreement. As such, this move will allow both Guyanese and Americans to do joint patrolling offshore as well as provide training in this area so as to address the issue on high seas, if there is suspected illegal fishing. She noted that the US will continue its support to tackle this issue of illegal fishing that has been a challenge to the fishermen, especially the local ones.
“The issue of illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing is quite important. We have a new administration, President Biden and he is very concerned about climate change; he held a large summit last week and so the issue of illegal fishing really impacts, not only the environment but it impacts the global economies as well. It is an area that we are looking at and that is why we started off the trip meeting with the Coop. We are in the early stages as we had just ratified that agreement but it is a great way forward for us to work together.”
Aside from the issues of unregulated and illegal fishing, the Ambassador dealt with matters concerning, the ban on catfish to the United States and licensing woes faced by the local fishermen, along with security and governance in the region.
The issue of licensing is one that has been affecting the Guyanese fisher folk for quite a number of years and yet the issue has not been resolved. Fishing off the Corentyne shore has been a major challenge for the local fishermen since Surinamese have been claiming sovereignty over the Corentyne river- waters that Guyanese fishermen usually ply their trade. As a result of the water dispute, Guyanese fishermen must have a license from Surinamese counterparts to ply their trade since the neighboring country has claimed a section of Guyana’s coastal waters.
According to Mr. Jaichand, President of the Upper Corentyne Chamber of Commerce, when fishermen venture out to sea without a license, the Surinamese authorities are patrolling the waters and would usually arrest and take them into custody and seize their boats, engines and other resources.
Guyanese fishermen must have a Surinamese counterpart who has a license so that they can ply their trade. This would mean that Guyanese fishermen are using licenses owned Surinamese to catch fish, however, this is done under a contractual agreement between both parties. Jaichand further noted that, in the past years, the fishermen once paid US$300 to their counterparts but that price has since skyrocketed; now amounting to US$3,000.
“The agreement with the Surinamese counterparts requires our Guyanese fishermen to take the fish over to Suriname. What the Surinamese don’t need, that is the fish returned back to Guyana. This increase in price for the license with the counterpart is one that was decided on the counterparts themselves since it is an illegal agreement, so there isn’t anything the Guyanese fishermen can do. The current license the Guyanese fishermen have is coming to an end; it will expire soon and they are not sure what they will do.”
Mr. Jaichand has engaged this matter with the US ambassador and has asked her to make the necessary intervention so as to have the approval of 150 licenses granted to the fishermen in a timely manner. According to Jaichand, the Minister of Agriculture has been in communication with Surinamese authorities to have this done. The documentation for this process on Guyana’s behalf was completed but they are awaiting word from the Surinamese authorities.
Ambassador Lynch said she will have this matter discussed with the relevant authorities.
“It is a dramatic raise in the price for the licenses and it is really impacting the fisher folk, who I think are already challenged in this day and age to make a living. So, our plan is to relate this issue back in Georgetown to the appropriate Ministries and continue that conversation to see the best possible situation.”
Ban on catfish
Back in 2017, the United States had placed a ban on the importation of catfish from Guyana since they were not able to comply with the new standards that were set by the US Department of Agriculture. Guyana was aware of the new standards some 18 months before the ban was imposed. However, recently there have been discussions of reviewing the ban on the highly demanded fish in the United States. The ban on catfish has placed the local fisher folk in a situation that has cost them lots of money given the fact that catfish is one of the most expensive fish in the market and for it not to be exported is a great loss for the fishing industry here in Guyana.
“We were well aware that this is a product the diaspora really enjoys but there are certain rules and regulations for the export markets of catfish and so we had technical meetings with the folks here that would be responsible for making sure all the appropriate safety measures are in place for exports. They are working on going through that list and once that is complete, hopefully there will be some good news at some point in the future.”