With requests for tax exemptions, duty free concessions and a promise of a mega US$70M investment in the local fish sector, the attention of local operators’ remains fixed on the Agriculture Ministry as fears of a Chinese “takeover” of the industry persist.
Being mindful of the use of advanced fishing equipment, facilities and fishing vessels that double the size of local operators, members of the industry are nervous. This was reaffirmed yesterday when several large and small operators in the fishing industry reiterated their non-support for any approval of the foreign company, Fuzhou Hongdong Pelagic Fishery Co. Ltd. or any other “outsider” seeking to operate alongside local fishermen.
The Chinese company is asking the Guyanese government for 30 fishing licences to operate 30 trawlers and two auxiliary crafts. It will make the catches, process and export it. It will also bring all items, including food, promising mainly employment in processing plants for locals.
The business proposal is currently being considered by government. But this issue comes while authorities are demanding that local fishermen reduce their fleet because of depleted fish stocks. The operators are even more concerned that apart from the size of the operation, the foreign company may have another unfair advantage if the exemptions requested are granted. They noted further that Guyana stands to benefit very little from this venture.
Retired fisherman, Leon Reid, of Leon Reid Fish Supply Enterprise located on Lombard Street, has been in the industry for over 40 years. He believes that the government should stay away from the Chinese proposal since it will significantly damage an already struggling industry. He was speaking specifically to Trawler fishing for seabob and other products found in “indoor fishing”.
He said currently there are limited supplies compared to five to six years ago. He attributed this to local fishing practices which will involve some of the very equipment that the Chinese propose to use if granted permission. He added that consumers stand to suffer, as seafood prices will raise when the already depleted stock will be exported.
For this reason, measures are in place by the relevant departments of the Agriculture Ministry to ensure the replenishing of dwindling stocks. These include closed seasons and fleet reductions. Dragnet fishing or seine fishing is one method that is contributing heavily to diminishing stocks as this destroys breeding grounds, reefs, and ploughs up the seabed, particularly with constant fishing activity in a particular area.
The method used when fishing for shrimp also sees very small fish of various species being trapped. They are usually thrown back overboard, but in the end, fishermen throw back more than their actual catch. If these large amounts of small fish are caught unintentionally before maturity, the depletion of stocks is expected.
The veteran fisherman said that the Chinese proposal and that of any outsider wanting to enter this aspect of fishing should be rejected.
Duane Faerber, of Fanta Seafoods on the East Coast of Demerara, agreed that the Chinese investment could be difficult for the local industry and its operators. He believes that given the current concerns which local authorities have acknowledged, expanding the industry with foreign operators “would not be right when operators are asked to reduce their fishing fleet by 10 percent every year”.
“So if you have 50 boats, you lose five every year.”
At one time, he said, Guyana was a major exporter of shrimp to North America; this is not the case anymore. He believes that measures to reduce trawlers and protect fishing grounds is a positive move since the stocks are so low that local fishermen are already seeking fishing grounds in Suriname and French Guiana, where they have to pay for licences and observe other stipulations there.
Acting President of the Guyana Association of Trawler Owners and Seafood Processors (GATOSP), Phillip Vieira, told Kaieteur News that the body maintains its non-support for the Chinese project. Acknowledging that the last say is with the government, he noted however that the government is in receipt of information as to why they think the project is not a viable one for the industry and local operators.
He said last year the association along with representatives for Artisanal fishermen, jointly expressed disapproval of the Chinese investment. They said they were given assurance by the agency that should anything be decided, consideration would be given to their concerns.
The GATOSP has since 2013 expressed concern of the possibility of licences being granted to the Chinese. They said it would have been a slap in the face of local operators and would present an unfair advantage, since local operators do not receive the exemptions that the Chinese want and they do not have the equipment to compete with them. They also claim continued destruction of the country’s fishing grounds.
The Chinese have asked the government to give preferential tax policies. They are also seeking tax exemptions on the import of fuel, living supplies, repair parts and other operation equipment and construction material that they will be bringing with them.
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