Guyana’s oldest and privately-owned fishing company, BEV Processors, is winding down its operations, with workers over the weekend given six weeks’ notice.
The closure of the Houston operations would be a big blow for the fishing sector in Guyana. It would come at a time when Guyana is under pressure to be internationally certified in order to access the key US and Europe markets.
According to 67-year-old Bruce Vieira, Chairman and Managing Director of BEV Processors, the decision is hard one for him. With almost 380 workers and a business in operations for 34 years, the process of winding down started a year ago with the company halting the processing and export of fish.
It continued to concentrate on its seabob shrimp.
Over the weekend, Vieira met with staffers informing them of the mid-July closure.
Owners of the contracted 17 private trawlers have also been informed.
On Monday, the workers’ union, the Guyana Agricultural and General Workers Union (GAWU) was written to.
BEV has been selling its shrimp to the Caribbean, US and Europe, the official disclosed.
The company is third behind Pritipaul Singh Investments and Noble House, in terms of operations.
Speaking on the challenges, the businessman admitted that these have been growing in recent years with Guyana given a deadline of December 31, 2019 to be certified under the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC). MSC is an independent non-profit organization which sets a standard for sustainable fishing.
Fisheries that wish to demonstrate that they are well-managed and sustainable compared to the science-based MSC standard are assessed by a team of experts who are independent of both the fishery and the MSC.
Seafood products can display the blue MSC ecolabel only if that seafood can be traced back through the supply chain to a fishery that has been certified against the MSC standard.
For Guyana to access the US and Europe markets, the MSC certification is a must, Vieira said.
“MSC is very important milestone for us to have. In fact, our US customers have told us in no uncertain terms that by December 31st 2019, they will not buy any shrimp from Guyana unless Guyana has been certified by this MSC ecolabel.”
The certification compels fisheries to put into place a number of things to ensure they remain compliant, the official explained.
“As an example, recently not because of the government but because of a requirement, of the MSC, it was found that we need to go out deeper to fish.”
This was to ensure that other marine lives are protected, like stingrays.
“We have to outfit our boats with cameras and TEDs (Turtle Excluder Devices).”
Another requirement is that Guyana has to pass key legislations for fishing, including tougher penalties.
Vieira said that another reason for the decision to close is the major challenge in the market.
There was a time when seabob shrimp were in high demand, with customers begging to buy.
The market has opened with shrimp being supplied from all over the world now, with a reduction in the demand from countries like Guyana.
“I have for instance 600,000 pounds of small baby shrimp…can’t sell in stock. It may take up to a year to sell. Most of our storage is ram-jam packed.”
With regards to tougher monitoring to ensure Guyana is compliant, there will be more inspection of trawlers and audits.
“We were given six months to introduce cameras on the trawlers. The deadline is this month.”
According to Vieira, BEV is different from other fishing operations in Guyana, as it does not own boats. Rather, the catches are brought in by private operators.
“We secure fuel, spares, supplies, water and provide also electricity to them.”
“The requirements of MSC meant that BEV will have had to step up its game so the age issue comes in. If I were much younger, I know down the road that things would have improved. Things would have gone down for us before improving.
“We could have lost a lot of money very fast if you can’t sell shrimp. We could end up in a big debt. It could take years to repay. I don’t have those years.”
BEV is sitting on prime property north of where Gafoors is in Houston, on a three-acre plot.
It is self-sufficient in terms of power generation, with its own wells.
Vieira made it clear that he has not asked to sell the property. The decision was solely because of the challenges.
He said that contrary to some rumors, the company is making its decisions because of difficulties with the tax regime. Rather, these were very favorable to the fishing sector.
“BEV started processing seabob 34 years ago. Nobody heard about it then. We were pioneers for seabobs. In fact, we were the first company to export seabobs in large quantities in Guyana. We developed a business where thousands of persons are now employed. We are proud of that.”
With regards to the trawlers, Vieira disclosed that BEV has signed a Letter of Understanding with Noble House to purchase some of his processing equipment.
“They are also interested in all the trawlers from the private owners. Some of the trawler owners are naturally not interested in selling. They will also explore supplying their catches to Noble House.”
Vieira said that his children are not interested in the business.
“It does break heart, but I knew it had to happen. I have one daughter who may have been interested but it is a tough business.”
Yesterday, workers were worried, a number of them working years.
“We have to deal with them. We had heard rumours. This is what we know,” one father of four said.
The loss of jobs for 380 workers would come at a time when over 5,000 sugar workers have also been made redundant and a number of sectors have contracted.
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