The Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) has slammed Agriculture Minister Dr Leslie Ramsammy’s response to its concerns over licensing Chinese vessels to fish in Guyana’s waters as an attempt to hoodwink the public.
“The idea of contracting a Chinese agency to determine whether there are species in Guyana’s waters that can be fished by Chinese trawlers suggests Minister Ramsammy is being facetious or that he has no regard for public opinion,” the GHRA said in a statement issued yesterday. “Such a study would convince no one and appears more like a fig-leaf to cover his intention to continue on the course of licensing Chinese fishermen,” the group said.
The GHRA acknowledged that a study of the species, shoals and fish-stocks in Guyanese waters would be very valuable, assuming that this information is currently unknown. “Are there any baseline data on fish stocks? What should the harvesting rates be? These are important questions, but what faith could be placed in having that information provided by institutions which have a vested interest in the outcome? If this information is a priority, the study should be tendered in a professional manner and the contract awarded on the basis of impartial and professional criteria,” the GHRA asserted.
The most alarming aspect, in an exercise which borders on insulting the intelligence of Guyanese people, is the notion that the Ministry of Agriculture has the ability to monitor Chinese trawlers.
“The Guyana Coast Guard [does] not have any blue water vessels, nor does the capacity exist to continuously monitor catches. Given the Government’s faith in Chinese companies, it would not be surprising to learn that the task of monitoring what they catch has also been handed over to companies from China,” the GHRA said.
It noted that this proposal appears to be yet another attempt by government to deceive taxpayers who have already been saddled with a massively expensive expansion of the Cheddi Jagan International Airport, Timehri which was not put out to tender, nor the public informed. “Indeed, but for the Jamaica (Observer) announcing it, one might ask when the Guyanese public would have known about it.”
On Monday, the agriculture minister said government is not considering granting fishing licences but has a MoU with a Chinese company to undertake a study of seafood species that can be fished in Guyana’s deep waters without impacting on local fishermen. The minister further explained that under the MoU the company would study and identify a species, except for prawns or seabobs, and submit a proposal that will be used to determine the feasibility of granting licences.
In a press release the GHRA had said that the minister’s “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.”
However, Ramsammy explained that the agreement for the proposed research by the Chinese came about after years of persons talking about deep water fishing with no concretised proposal ever being made.
He also said that there might’ve been a mix-up with the number of persons harvesting prawns and seabob and the current Chinese proposal.
“There were a number of licences 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 [and] 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 said. Ramsammy also asserted that, “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.”