Kaieteur News- Every morning, there are hundreds of persons assembled for work – formal and informal – at the Meadow Bank wharf. The ice plant workers provide cold-chain services for the dozens of fishing boats, which dock at that wharf daily.
When the fishing boats berth, their catch is offloaded by dozens of porters, pushing makeshift carts. Fish is sold on the wharf in wholesale and retail quantities. Each morning, there are more than 100 persons assembled there selling and cleaning fish and a few hundred more who come to buy to resell in the markets or for fish-shops and restaurants.
The fishing industry supports a number of industries, including those who trade in fuel and lubricants and fishing gear. It provides employment for boat-builders and other craftsmen. But the largest employer in the fishing industry are fishing processing plants which employ hundreds of workers, most of whom are women.
Fish exports bring in more money than sugar. It directly employs just as many persons as sugar but brings in almost three times the amount of export earnings as sugar.
A great many families depend on the fishing industry for their daily bread. And when it comes to our diets, fish is the main source of consumed protein.
When therefore Vice President Jagdeo declares that his support for bringing up as much of our oil in the shortest possible time, he cannot afford to be myopic in his assessment of the costs and benefits associated with this rapid exploitation of our oil.
His Depletion Policy has far ranging implications, especially for the fishing industry.
Fisheries can become a causality of the oil sector. Oil operations in the Stabroek and Canje blocks are fraught with the danger of chasing fishing stocks to cooler waters as a result of seismic studies, the dumping of ballast water and the disposal of effluent from oil production.
A controversy is raging at the moment over the Trump’s administration relaxing of the use of deep-penetration seismic blasts to search for oil deposits in the Gulf of Mexico. The use of air-guns for deep penetration below the seabed has evoked concerns over its possible effect on aquatic life. Critics claim that the sound blasts disorient and chase fish away from the area and uproot the vegetation necessary for their survival.
So far, no debate has taken place as to whether the oil companies operating in Guyana’s Stabroek or Canje Blocks are using air-guns similar or comparable to that which are expected to be deployed in the Gulf of Mexico. What is known is that local mariners are often warned to stay clear of areas in which seismic studies are being done.
This is indicative of a possible threat to the marine stocks.
Oil vessels dispose of ballast water into the sea. Ballast water is used to balance the stability of the vessel. It is stored in hull and provides stability. The oil vessels operating in Guyana would take in ballast water from other parts of the world.
This ballast water contains organisms, which may be foreign and harmful to our marine stocks.
According to Bikram Singh, writing in Marine Insight, ballast water is a major source for the introduction of harmful aquatic organisms and pathogens into the sea and estuaries but the problem does not end there.
During the drilling process, a chemical is used to get through the subterranean layers.
This chemical can seep into the water and find its way into the marine waters. When the oil is brought up, it comes up with mud, liquid effluent and gas.
The mud and liquid effluent may contain traces of chemicals which can be harmful to fish and all of this is dumped into the sea.
The water that is dumped into the sea is at a very high temperature, above boiling point and this can increase the temperature of the sea and make it unsuitable for the habitation of fish.
Also, if the fish take in the poisons contained within the effluent, then this can find its way into the food chain. Once this happens and people get sick, this is the end of people buying local fish.
Jagdeo is said to like fish. But he will not want to eat fish which are sourced from chemically-laced fishing grounds.
The debate about the country’s Depletion Policy cannot therefore be only about the rate at which our oil is extracted. It has to factor in other variables including the health and, environmental risks associated with the seismic exploration, the dumping of ballast water and the waste products of oil production, which are dumped into the sea and which can end up finding its way into our shallow fishing grounds.
(The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of this newspaper.)
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