Minister of Business Dominic Gaskin has conceded that Guyana must take full responsibility for the circumstances that led the country’s loss of its multi-million-dollar United States catfish market but says that government will work towards satisfying the conditionalities necessary for that market to be regained.
Delivering the opening address at last weekend’s Essequibo Fair staged by the Essequibo Chamber of Commerce, Gaskin, without placing the blame at the feet of any specific state agency unambiguously declared that it was the failure of the authorities here to act with a sufficient sense of urgency in response to US notification regarding changes in regulations that resulted in the ban imposed on catfish imports.
“I am aware that the government or the authorities in Guyana were notified by the US Department of Agriculture about their planned changes in regulations for the import of catfish,” Gaskin said, adding that had the matter been given the deserving attention “we would not be in the situation we are in today.”
And according to Gaskin while “certain individuals and certain entities” had sought to create the impression that the catfish issue affects all of the country’s fish exports to the US the reality was that the prohibition of local catfish imports into the US affected a market worth around US$1.2 million.
According to Gaskin the catfish issue is linked to US regulations. He explained that catfish consumed in the US “is mostly farmed catfish” which is taken to the processing plant where they are killed, degutted and packaged for sale. On the other hand, Gaskin said, in Guyana “our fishes are caught in the wild or out in the ocean, they are killed, degutted and put on ice, and then brought ashore and sold to the processing plants for export………… we do not have the same system as they have and therefore their regulations don’t fit with our type of process,” Gaskin declared.
The Business Minister was quick to declare, however, that work is being done on Guyana’s “fisheries products regulations” in order to rectify the situation. “There are some amendments that are being required and these are being worked on and within a few months this issue will be resolved,” Gaskin said, though he added that after the amendments are completed the US will still have to dispatch a verification team to Guyana “to do an auditing of our processing facilities” before our catfish can be re-certified for export to the US.
Earlier statements, including official pronouncements on the catfish issue had attributed differing reasons for the US ban. Local Veterinary Public Health Director Dr Ozaye Dodson, stated in a Ministry of Public Health release that the US move to stop catfish imports from Guyana was essentially a “protectionist measure” aimed at protecting American catfish.
However, the US had retorted that not only was Guyana given adequate notice of the change in its regulations but that the country had been granted a significant extension on the deadline for putting its house in order.