May 25, 2022 Editorial
Kaieteur News – The Minister of Agriculture shared that a Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) study noted that oil production has no relationship to dwindling fish catch experienced by fishermen in parts of Guyana’s waters. Rather, the barrenness of fishing grounds in some areas is more likely traceable to the effects of climate change and fresh water (“Agri. Minister says study finds oil production not affecting fish catch -Although ExxonMobil warned operations could impact fish…” KN May 22). There are mixed reactions to this news from the Minister.
We thank the Minister for stepping forward and, on the face of it, articulating what sounds like good news. Unfortunately, this is only up to a point. That is, it is good to learn that the broadening activities of the booming oil sector do not contribute to what is happening to our fisherfolk. The bad news is that their situation is unchanged, and they are left with a new development that adds more complexity to already mysterious circumstances.
It is mysterious because climate change is not a new phenomenon, but one that has been around for several decades. While, on the other hand, reports of declining catch from our fisherfolk in our waters are from the last few years’ only, and specific areas. It so happens that their experience, as shared by some of them, coincides fairly closely to the commencement of oil exploration and production, and the many other activities, of the new sector. So, for the experts at the FAO to make this climate change-fresh water connection to fish catch stirs interest (looking at this positively), but also generates more than the usual uncertainty (reacting to ministerial news of the FAO report critically) since so much is still kept from the public.
It would have helped if the Agriculture Minister had armed himself with copies of the FAO report, so that they could be shared with local media professionals (or identified via an online link for them to access it). They, in turn, would be in a better position to incorporate relevant parts of the report into their coverage to confirm what the Minister offered regarding where things stood. Regrettably, he didn’t do so; and just as regrettably, it can’t be accepted at face value simply because he calls a media gathering to say that this is what it is.
Already the concerns and questions are coming quickly and with increasing anxiety. ExxonMobil itself had cautioned in the Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) compiled by its people that its offshore oil work could impact Guyana’s marine life, including fish. Yet here it is that we have this independent study by the FAO that tables a conclusion going in the other direction.
As could be reasonably expected, this has vigilant observers asking how independent this study is. Make no mistake, the FAO is a reputable entity that has been around for a long time. Notwithstanding that appreciation, there are anxieties that still hover about the basis of its study, the specifics of it, and the extent of it. Indeed, this is information that Guyanese skeptical of how PPPC Government leaders have run interference for the oil industry want to have in their hands, so that they can review and come to their own conclusions. Leaders in this Government have made it into a practice to keep vital reports out of the reach of interested Guyanese, which makes them look as though there are things to hide, and that they are not on the side of the Guyanese people.
Another comforting statement from the Minister was that there has been an increase in fish catch. When pressed as to how much of an increase, and how that was arrived at, he couldn’t answer. The Minister has since been silent, as in unavailable to clear the air by furnishing the missing details. This being a time of transparency, it is not good enough. Not because a Minister says that that is all there is to the matter.
The media needs more, the public needs more, and Guyanese are due more. We would be delighted at the fact that oil operations haven’t affected fish catch. But the backing must be forthcoming. The Minister must release the FAO report.
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