Government is not considering granting fishing licences but has a Memo-randum of Understanding with a Chinese company to undertake a study of seafood species that can be fished in the country’s deep waters without impacting on local fishermen.
So said Minister of Agriculture Dr Leslie Ramsammy yesterday in response to concern expressed by the Guyana Human Rights Association over reports that the government may be considering licensing of Chinese fishing vessels in this country’s waters.
“The recent announcement that the Minister of Agriculture is considering licensing Chinese fishing vessels to operate in Guyana’s water is yet another example of Guyana’s natural resources being bartered away to Chinese interests without any reference to the people most directly affected, or the environmental effects,” the GHRA had said in a press release.
However, Ramsammy told Stabroek News, “There is an MOU… They will do a study, identify a species not prawns or seabob… They will submit a proposal and based on that we will see if for us it is feasible.”
He explained that the agreement for the proposed research by the Chinese came since over the years many persons have “talked about” deep water fishing but no concretised proposal was ever made.
The minister said that there might be a mix up with the cut down in the number of persons harvesting prawns and seabob and the current Chinese proposal. “That is a different thing. There were a number of licenses granted for prawns and seabob but based on scientific evidence that showed those species vastly depleting, the numbers had to go down,” he said.
“There used to be 120 and it has been reduced to 90 something and this was not forced on anyone we sat down with them explained that research has shown the dwindling numbers and that there should be a reduction. We never executed a rigid stop on anyone,” the minister asserted.
“We have made it pellucidly clear that we are not going to be giving any licences for prawns and seabob. If they include that we will not grant it,” he stressed.
GHRA’s statement said there was no way of monitoring what is fished from the sea as local enforcement is poor. “Assurances that the Chinese will not be allowed to fish for species currently assigned to GATOSP [Guyana Asso-ciation of Trawler Owners and Seafood Processors] members is a subterfuge, since the ministry has no way of effectively monitoring what is taking place on the high seas,” it stated.
The organisation said it believed that any move to have the Chinese fish in Guyana’s water will see an increase in the already high price of the commodity. “The minister’s complacent attitude to the labour, environmental and food price consequences of this matter is disturbing. Were it an isolated example, it might be viewed as an oversight. However, his position conforms to a clear pattern of priorities in which Chinese interests are privileged over what is good for Guyanese bio-diversity, Guyanese labour and Guyanese standard of living,” the release said.
The GHRA opined that in the context of GATOSP being told to limit its fleets, “the intended licensing of Chinese vessels is yet another example of Guy-ana’s biodiversity being sacrificed to Chinese profits”.
The organisation pointed out that should licences for fishing be granted to the Chinese work will be taken away from local fish cleaners and others. “Guyanese labour is once again taking second place to Chinese labour. If the current limits imposed on the number of trawlers allowed to fish in Guyanese waters is to be lifted, Guyanese fishermen ought then to be the first to benefit,” the release stated.
“If this project were to go ahead, it is patently clear that Chinese factory ships will be anchored off-shore and fed from the catches from the Chinese trawlers to be cleaned, filleted, frozen and packaged. How else would they dispose of their catch?” it added.
But Ramsammy stressed that there was no need for public panic as the research phase of the project has not yet commenced nor is there a guarantee that the proposal that will be given to government would be one that is favourable. “Let’s just wait and see,” he said.