Nov 22, 2021 News
—many blame Exxon offshore operations; predict death of industry in five years
By Davina Bagot
Kaieteur News – Fishermen in Guyana are reporting a rapid decline in catch, and predicting that they may very well be out of jobs in the next five years even as they attributed this to ExxonMobil’s operations offshore.
A key report from the American multinational has warned that there will be significant impact on the nation’s marine resources, due to the cumulative impact of those oil related activities. This disclosure was made in the project documents for the Yellowtail development in the Stabroek Block, operated by ExxonMobil’s subsidiary, Esso Exploration and Production Guyana Limited (EEPGL).
The report, which formed the premise for the recently concluded countrywide consultations on the Yellowtail development, noted that there are several exploration and development activities planned or are already in operation by EEPGL. These include the US$3.5B Liza Phase I Development, the US$6B Liza Phase II Development, and the US$9B Payara Development projects.
EEPGL said, it is continuing with a rapid exploration and drilling programme in the Stabroek Block alongside works on its fiber optic cable installation project, an onshore Guyana Office Campus, and the US$900M Gas to Energy Project.
It is also poised to drill 24 wells across the Kaieteur and Canje blocks, which border the Stabroek concession. It said too that the oil related activities will result in changes in marine nutrient cycle, resulting in localized and temporary changes in phytoplankton (a type of microalgae) species distribution, and impacts on gene flow. In spite of the foregoing, EEPGL said citizens and local authorities ought to be assured that the project will adopt a number of embedded controls, mitigation measures, and management plans. The ExxonMobil subsidiary said, these are considered sufficient to address the contributions of the project to cumulative impacts.
Local fishermen however are not comforted by the oil company’s assurances. “Ever since them man start drill we seabed out deh we catch gone very low. I in this business like since I was a child. In the earlies, from like 2007 when I start catch fish to like 2016. We used to get an exciting catch. But you see from like 2016 to now; presently, we catch is like going and strain water cause when we go out there we would just catch back lil gas money and something to feed the family. You can’t presently do nothing for yourself with this fish,” said Stayon Frank, a fisherman who retails fish in the Stabroek Market.
He opined that the only way to keep the sector alive may be to create nurseries at home, as he sees the business slowly becoming extinct. “Next five years we won’t get this type of fish here in Guyana anymore. Right now, the fish getting smaller and smaller. Is bare small fish. We might have to start mining fish in we back yard to keep this hustle alive,” the frustrated vendor told this newspaper.
Another vendor, who gave his name as ‘Dexter’ explained that his catch has reduced drastically and the quality of fish is also daunting. He explained that his catch was somewhere between 1,100 pounds in the earlier years. However, it has now reduced to about 700 pounds per catch. “Within a day the fish spoiling too and if you watch you would see some of the fish done get (slender) and this catch this morning we got to try and sell it out cause what we seeing here is a different quality of fish. And it ain’t coming like nuff fish like before. It seems like they just going down and down and down,” he complained. “We don’t know within the next four to five years what will happen. We getting more pressure cause some people don’t even want buy the fish cause they seeing the quality but we got to try and sell what we can to get a money,” the man explained.
Leroy Williams, who retails fish in Georgetown, attributed the decline in catch to Exxon’s operations. The fisherman who said he has been in the business for over 22 years now also said he is fearful of what is to come. “Right now in the fisheries industry what I can say is that since this oil company is out there, the amount of fish we used to get in this market, we are not getting it anymore. Most of them fisherman when they go out, they are not getting no kind of catch because they throw the line and they go back next day to pull it up, but when they go back they can’t get nothing much. Since this oil thing come about the fisherman them suffering in this country here right now. By we aint getting fish in here, people hardly coming in to do any business. You see the size? We used to get bigger Cuirass than this. I think like all the fish moving out by the noise that does be in the water cause especially like how they drilling and so, the fish them like they moving away,” he explained.
Williams told Kaieteur News that he learnt Guyana is now importing fish. This he said could put him out of business and take food from his children. “We daily catch just decreasing and right now saying they want to import fish, but if you want to import fish what is going to happen to us? It would have a lot of impact on my business cause right now they would put us out of business, cause I depend on this for my daily living,” the fish vendor noted.
According to him, Gail baker fish used to be wholesaled at $1,000 per pound but it has increased to $1,500. Trout he said was once at $800 per pound but has gone up to about $1,200 a pound. “Poor people feeling the squeeze right now and you watch next four to five years the poor man will suffer in this country. The oil that they drawing out there, we ain’t getting a cent. All the money is going back to them…something supposed to go back to the poor people. I doing this 22 years now and back then things used to be real good. Now, some day you come out, you barely working for a lil raise, but is just because you want to do something we does come out here but you not getting the courage like before. It just driving we crazy,” Williams detailed.
Another vendor, Jaden Dickinson told this newspaper that the fishes are migrating due to the ongoing drilling and exploration of Exxon Mobil. “We not getting enough fish. It used to be in a lump sum about three years back and now is not the same. Like three years ago I used to get about 3000 to four thousand pounds per catch, now I only getting about six or seven hundred pounds,” he said. Due to this, he noted that his customers have been complaining of the prices. Dickinson highlighted: “This thing affecting me and the customers cause when them man that catch it sell back to we, we got to try and make a lil thing. I in this business for over 10 years now and this is the first time I seeing something like this.”
Now collecting data
Meanwhile, amid the gloom, Exxon has revealed that it is now collecting baseline information to get an understanding of how the fisheries sector here is being impacted by their operations. During a recent virtual Consultation held by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Exxon Mobil’s Yellowtail Project, Environmentalist, Simone Mangal-Jolly said that even though Exxon compiled a fisheries study, the document failed to highlight the migratory patterns of fish, among others. She said: “It has no comprehensive mapping of the fish nurseries in Guyana or neighbouring countries that might be feeding our fisheries sector. There are no indications whatsoever in any baseline studies done, including the Marine Baseline Study of what the migratory patterns are of commercial or non-commercial fish compared to that whole zone”.
In response to her concerns, the Consultancy agency, Environmental Resources Management (ERM) representative Jason Wiley said that baseline data is being conducted and is expected to continue for about another year. Mangal-Jolly however argued, “A baseline is something you collect before you attempt to do a project or an action that alters the conditions, such that if you were to come later, you would then be able to know how the conditions have changed… You can’t be continuously collecting a baseline when there are already activities going on offshore that are affecting those conditions.”
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