Guyana, Venezuela accused of cleaning out Suriname fishing grounds
(de Ware Tijd) PARAMARIBO – Suriname’s fishing grounds are being cleaned out on a large scale by dozens of Venezuelan and Guyanese boats while Suriname’s Navy cannot take effective action. It is unimaginable what these boats are carrying away, says Navy commander Marino Acton.
Strengthening and expansion of the patrol fleet is needed, because the foreigners sometimes use illegal methods and equipment. The Navy can barely patrol the extensive area with just two seaworthy vessels. In addition, only some of the perpetrators are caught. In the past two months, the Navy has confiscated six illegal fishing boats and arrested the crews, including a Venezuelan boat and a Guyanese last weekend.
Acton explains that the Venezuelan boats usually operate in groups of 12 to 15 in a certain area at the same time, particularly in deeper waters in a zone between 80 and 120 miles off the Surinamese coast in order to catch commercially very attractive tuna. While the Navy approaches one boat, the others flee. “We can’t pursue them, as our boats are not that fast and are not patrol boats,” Acton says. “We’ve started regular patrols and are currently in the area off the Coppename River,” commander Acton states. Fishing boats are boarded to determine whether they have a license and are they are in the right area. The boats are also inspected for the possible use of illegal nets and equipment.
Meanwhile, the illegal fishers caught last weekend have been deported after paying a fine, namely US$ 7,500 for the Venezuelans and US$ 15,000 for the Guyanese. Police spokesman John Jones points out that the Guyanese were charged a higher fine because they used cages, which is illegal internationally. Acton says the fines do not compensate for the economic and environmental damage caused and the efforts by army and police to patrol the marine territory. He estimates that the Venezuela vessel is worth around US$ US 87,000, and the catch such boats can carry may be worth US$ 40,000 sometimes, “so a fine of 7,000 dollars does not mean much to them.” And in some cases, the offenders even start fishing again once they have been released. “We often wonder whether we should have made the effort to arrest them,” Acton sighs.