New regulations coming to enable catfish exports to US – Holder

Noel Holder

Government is drafting new regulations to enable Guyana to meet the United States’ requirements for the export of catfish species, Minister of Agriculture Noel Holder says.

Exports of gilbacker (a catfish species) to the US market were severely affected earlier this year following a ban of the product from Guyana in March.

During the consideration of the budget estimates last week, Holder said  that “Catfish must be caught live and transported to the US live”.

This has to be fixed with regulations, Holder told the Committee of Supply reviewing the national budget estimates. The US has banned all catfish species entering the US that do not adhere to certain regulations.

“They are looking at how they can protect their industry,” Holder said.

Government had been in discussions with the former US ambassador to Guyana to see what accommodations could be made to reopen trade in the gilbacker, he said, but he could not give a report on the extent of those discussions.

The negotiations and the extent of the negotiations, he said, was not a matter the Ministry of Agriculture could resolve by itself as some issues fall under the Ministry of Public Health.

It was unfortunate, he said, that the country was losing millions of dollars due to the ban on the fish.

The fishing industry in Guyana brings in annually between US$70 million to US$80 million, he said, and gilbacker accounted for about US$1.2 million.

Asked about the effect of deep sea drilling, with the advent of the emerging oil industry, on deep sea fishing, Holder said, at present, only one company is doing deep sea fishing in Guyana’s waters.

The requirement in the oil industry, he said, is that there should be a certain space around the oil well and at this point in time, there were no challenges to deep sea fishing.

On the payment for a boat for aquaculture development, Holder said the total cost will be $114 million and an initial down payment will be made this fiscal year. Budgeted for aquaculture development under capital expenditure is $63.1 million. That includes the down payment for the boat and provision for incubators, a security system, fish feeders and water filtration system.

In March this year, the US Embassy here said that Guyana was notified since November 2015 of the steps that needed to be taken to avoid a ban on the export of catfish to the United States but that the country had not complied.

In a statement, the US Embassy said that the notification came more than 18 months before the amended regulations pertaining to catfish (siluriformes) were to take effect.

“We even gave Guyana an extension until February 3, 2018 to comply with the new regulations,” the statement said, while pointing out that most countries in the hemisphere have already complied with the regulations and the US believes that Guyana eventually “can and will comply as well.”

“We understand that the Government of Guyana is working on complying but it has not fully met the standards of the new processes associated with the regulations and until it does we cannot accept any catfish from Guyana,” the Embassy said, while adding that the US has offered technical assistance to help Guyanese fishermen and women to comply.

In 2015, the US Food Safety inspection Services (FSIS) amended its regulations to establish a mandatory inspection programme for fish of the order Siluriformes and products derived from these fish.

The amendment was the result of a 15-year battle by the Catfish Farmers of America (CFA) to curtail catfish imports from Vietnam. The US government had already passed the 2008 and 2014 Farm Bills, which amended the Federal Meat Inspection Act (FMIA), to make ‘‘catfish’’ a species amenable to the FMIA and, therefore, subject to FSIS inspection before removing the term ‘‘catfish’’ so as to make ‘‘all fish of the order Siluriformes’’ subject to FSIS jurisdiction and inspection.

The 2015 standards, which became effective on March 1st, 2016, demand the presence of inspectors on plants for one hour during an 8-hour shift. According to the US Department of Agriculture website, though the standards became effective in 2016, a transitional period was granted before full enforcement on September 1st, 2017. Guyana was given a further extension to February 3rd 2018.

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