Feb 08, 2021 News
Kaieteur News – Even though the PPP/C Government announced last month that the fishing industry managed to rake in over $16B in excess revenue, extensive interviews conducted by Kaieteur News across the country seems to suggest that our fishermen have “been catching hell”.
In fact, this media house has been receiving numerous reports of a rapid depletion of the fish stock in Guyana’s waters. However, over the past 12 months, the depletion intensified and fishermen saw their catch decrease, some say by more than 50%.
A number of fishermen have blamed poor regulation by the Government for giving away too many fishing licences, thereby causing the sea to become overcrowded with boats. Others believe that it might have to do with the ongoing exploration, drilling and production of crude by ExxonMobil. No independent study has been made public by the government about the effects these oil operations have on the nation’s marine life.
Apart from little fish stock they toil to catch, fishermen were plunged further into crisis by the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, major exports were halted, the local market was overcrowded, and prices plummeted.
To witness the crisis first hand and listen to their story, Kaieteur News went down to the local fish wharves located in the three counties of Guyana, Demerara, Essequibo and Berbice.
On Wednesday, December 16, 2020, Kaieteur News drove down to Meadow Bank Wharf around 5 am. The reporter sat for a while to observe the business before having a chat with a group of fishermen who was mending their nets.
Around that hour, it was busy, boats were being offloaded, porters were fighting for a job to fetch customers’ fish. Fish vendors and fishermen argued as they tried to settle for a fair price. As they arrived at an agreement, fishermen were heard chatting among themselves. “Them people ain’t even want pay the price for fish plus we ain’t even ketching nothing. Them have to flex with awe these man”.
Unlucky porters who did not get a job, sat in little groups conversing and begging fish vendors for a ‘small change to purchase cigarettes and rum.’ The Kaieteur News reporter on this assignment eavesdropped on the conversation; the topic of morning was “the hustle hard out here this year (2020)”.
They complained to each other that “this ain’t mek it, we tekking bad licks this year man, boyz can’t even afford a cigarette to smoke”.
Within an hour, the bustle ended and the wharf was cleared, business was over. The KN reporter then interviewed a group of fishermen who was mending their nets. They requested that their names not be in my report but agreed to share their honest perspectives. They were quick to note that the reports of decrease in fish stock were no red herring.
One of them said, “We have been catching hell at sea…nothing man, nothing”.
Another joined in the ‘gaff’, “Boy y’all need to speak about this thing, we are barely clearing expenses, our heads are barely above water”.
The man said that his boss would normally pay persons to mend their nets but because the fish catch has reduced significantly, they have to mend their own nets to cut cost.
“Even the porters are affected, we can’t pay them to offload so we do that work too just to pay ourselves”, added the fisherman. He continued, “First, we used to catch fish by the tonnes but now a catch like that is considered to be a miracle, fishing get rough…” He added, “Things really get bad this year, and it intensify in the last six months”.
A third fisherman who was smiling as he listened decided to make his voice heard too.
“Boy over the years, fisherman work was big money because you does get pay on the catch. Sometimes the catch does be so nice that you does be going home with $200,000, sometime $500,000 in your pocket. Now if you get $50,000 on a catch, you lucky”.
He pointed at some of his colleagues who were sipping coffee and smoking cigarettes on another boat and continued, “Them man come in yesterday, you know how much they got pay? Only $17,000 a man. It rough man”.
An elderly campaigner also shared his experience said, “I have never seen anything like this before man, is like the fish move out or they disappear.”
He asked, “But is what really going on out there in the sea? You see we ain’ too bright in science or so all we know is catching fish, y’all educated y’all gah enlighten us.” He then continued, “I want to believe that is the oil exploration and drilling by them oil company causing this you know. Since they start is suh them fish start disappearing and when them start producing the oil last year December like it get more worse.”
He then concluded by asking, “What can the Government do to help us? Can they do some investigation to give us an idea about what is happening to the fish? This is our livelihood, this is the way we maintain our families”.
Later on that day, a fisherman who was out at sea called Kaieteur News. He had listened to the Glenn Lall Show on Kaieteur Radio and had heard him mention that ongoing oil activities offshore can impact the marine life and wanted to testify that it might be true.
He said that he has been toiling at sea for 17 days and cannot head to the wharf because his catch is not sufficient enough to clear expenses, much less make a profit.
Normally, he continued, “You can make a profitable catch in three days but this year, fishermen have been forced to spend weeks out at sea just to make enough to take home for their families”.
In order to get a comprehensive understanding of what appears to be a crisis, Kaieteur News correspondents in Essequibo and Berbice decided to speak with local fishermen in their respective counties too.
Correspondent, Romario Blair, reported that fishermen in Region Two have also noticed that fish stock has been diminishing in the past few years. He said that these men have been able to cope with crisis by getting fair prices for their catch but Covid-19 “hammered” them in 2020.
Blair explained that fishermen along the Pomeroon/Supenaam Region told him that the pandemic has resulted in a market glut, which eventually decreased the value of their catch. Also, in a report submitted to this news agency, Blair wrote that most fishermen deploy from the ports of Charity and usually cast at sea, within the Waini area and off the coast in the Region.
The fishermen who spoke with Blair at the Charity fishing ports specialize in catching famous species like Catfish, Cuffum, Trout and Gillbacker for the export markets. Apart from toiling to find these species, which seem to be vanishing slowly, the fishermen explained, that COVID-19 has affected the export mark plunging them into a deeper crisis.
In Berbice, Kaieteur News correspondent Malissa Playter, reported that she too visited local wharves and received reports that members of the fishing industry seem to be experiencing hell too. Playter spoke with the Chairman of the Number 66 Fishing Complex Tamashwar Jainarine.
Jainarine is a fishing boat owner too and deals with the affairs of over 800 fishermen from that complex. He told Playter that the fish catch has been low in recent times and has been that way for a few years now. He explained to her that because of the low fish stock, some of the Berbice fishermen are fishing in Suriname waters.
However, Jainarine does not believe that ExxonMobil’s offshore activities are causing the disappearance of the fish stock. “Berbice fishermen do not fish where Exxon is drilling”, he said.
He is of the view that depletion of the fish stock is because there is an excessive number boats in the waters.
“The system is poorly regulated, anybody could come and go there and fish. No one is monitoring and the fish catch is getting smaller and smaller”.
In the coming weeks, Kaieteur News will continue to investigate the foregoing matter.
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