Apr 08, 2022 News
…government urged to speed up study on impact
By Zena Henry
Kaieteur News – Local fisher folk are calling on the government to speed up ongoing research activity that will help to determine the cause of low catches offshore Guyana.
The operators are pleading with the administration to exercise some amount of urgency as they say that low fish numbers are now forcing them to risk their lives and venture into foreign waters. Acknowledging that fishing in foreign territories is illegal, the operators who asked not to be named said that they are left with no other choice having to accept that their livelihood has been severely affected with no apparent avenue for redress.
One senior fisherman who conducts his business at the Meadow Bank Wharf told the Kaieteur News that small operators like himself are unrepresented. He said that the Georgetown Fishermen Co-op Society is the organisation responsible for the wharf but they have played no role in up keeping the facility, let alone interest in the low catch matter they are facing. He explained that despite issues affecting the fishermen being in the public domain and with the Agriculture Ministry, no one has come on the ground to conduct any inspections or make any checks.
“They are supposed to be coming and see how limited this fish is, but no official never come. We don’t have no body representing fishermen here. The people from fisheries supposed to come too. They supposed to be checking and seeing how much fish we catching, the size, it type, and record it but nobody ain’t coming, so what we supposed to do?” the operator questioned.
Another fisherman told the Kaieteur News that he too is a small operator. He said that he operates a 55 -foot boat that carries around five tons. With about six workers manning the operations onboard, the fisherman said he once expended around $600,000 to facilitate a 15 to 18 day fishing expedition. Now, coupled with low catches and high fuel prices, the operator said he has to invest some $800,000 to facilitate trips that come up short majority of the time.
He explained further that for quite some time now, fishing trips have been proving uneconomical. He said that after some two weeks at sea, operators are finding it increasingly difficult to pay their staff since they are unable to breakeven and are thus ending up in debt. He continued that where workers would have been paid as much as $100,000 per trip in some cases, boat owners have to now use their personal funds to afford the men transportation to their homes.
It is for this reason, the fisherman said that Guyanese are now risking their lives venturing into foreign waters to catch fish. In a video seen by this newspaper, the fishermen highlighted huge catches being made by their colleagues off the Brazilian coast. They said that those Guyanese fishermen were at the time catching large amounts of red snapper while Guyanese at home are catching 50 to 60 snappers per trip.
In the case of Venezuela, the fishermen said that going there is very dangerous because apart from the Sindicato gang, the Warao people and some Venezuelan fishermen would attack and rob Guyanese boats. Just over a month ago, a Guyanese boat was attacked in Venezuelan waters. They said that Venezuelan fishermen robbed the boat of its catch, ration and other items before locking the workers in the engine room and nailing it shut. A teenager who was a part of the crew was able to get out of the engine room and freed the trapped men. The fishermen were left drifting however until a Venezuelan trawler saw the vessel and conducted a rescue operation. The fishermen said that they could not report the matter to the authorities because they knew that they were fishing where they were not supposed to. The fishermen said however that the low catch is a real issue but, “They (government) are not accepting that since Exxon drilling, they are humbugging the production, but as I show you here (in the video), fish is catching elsewhere.”
The fishermen said that even without the research evidence, it is known that one does not make excessive noise when fishing, so, given the heavy equipment and scale of oil and gas operation taking place off the coast, the fishermen are convinced that the oil companies’ project has something to do with the low numbers.
In November of last year, reports had surfaced about dwindling fish numbers. By December, the Agriculture Minister, Zulfikar Mustapha had said that a local committee had been established to investigate the situation. He said that government had engaged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to assist with conducting an analysis to determine the reason behind the low catches.
In January, when Mustapha faced questions at the Parliamentary Sectorial Committee on Economic Services, he said that the government was taking part in stock assessment of commercial fish species, but did not update on findings or the position of the ongoing research. When contacted yesterday, Minister Mustapha told this media house that there has been no update on the research but he committed to making the information public as soon as it is available. Guyanese have been told that once they can prove that oil operations in the Stabroek Block have affected them then they may seek compensation. The fish research is the first step to explaining the dwindling numbers, fish operators believe.
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