The Department of Fisheries of the Ministry of Agriculture is moving to finalise amendments to regulations needed to restart the export of catfish to the United States of America, according to Head of the Department Denzil Roberts.
Speaking to Stabroek News last week, Roberts explained that the Department has to set up a meeting with the Veterinary Public Health Department on changes in the regulations to reflect what the United States now requires.
“Those changes will have to be incorporated in the regulations and then [they] will be sent to the Attorney General’s Chambers to be approved. We should be meeting sometime this week to have a final look at the document before we agree and then send it to the AG’s Chambers and once they okay it, the minister should be able to approve it and then send it to the US,” he said.
When asked about the amount of time it would take for the US to process the information, Roberts said he would not be able to say.
“They had sent back somethings last year. They had sent back the shortcomings and we would’ve responded to that and they took about two months before they replied. And apparently there was a new team that sent more questions,” he added.
Roberts also noted that the US is asking that the catfish are live at the time they arrived at processing plants, which he said is unlikely in Guyana’s case since the fish are caught wild here, as opposed to being harvested from ponds like in the United States.
“The US catfish industry is quite different from ours. They are farm raised and so when they are caught in the pond they are taken to the processing plant and they deal with the catfish. So one of their questions is how do we ensure it is not dead before it reaches there. In this scenario of a farm catfish, that is practical. However, ours are wild-caught and iced there and brought to the plant to further process. It is things like that we have to work through,” he said, while noting that the department is currently trying to work around the issue and will have to show the US authorities how the catfish industry operates in Guyana and that adequate inspections are done.
Roberts was also questioned on the effects of the ban on exports. He noted that while there are other markets that can facilitate the trade, they are not big enough to fill the gap created by the loss of the US market.
“I’m hoping that by the end of the first quarter it’ll open back. If we get our stuff out by this month… we will do what we have to do,” he said.
In 2015, the US’ Food Safety and Inspection Service amended its regulations to establish a mandatory inspection programme for the catfish species 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.
Guyana failed to meet the new standards in three areas: the presence of inspectors; insufficient documentation detailing verification of each step in the sanitation and Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point; and insufficient documentation specifying how the industry manages adulterated (tainted) catfish product.
Guyana has been working towards compliance with the new standards for the export of catfish to the United States since 2016, Roberts had related in March last year.
The US Embassy had said in a statement then that the Guyana government had been notified of the revised regulations as it relates to catfish imports 18 months before the changes were slated to take effect. However, despite the lengthy notice, no affirmative actions were taken to ensure that the country became compliant with the new rules.
The lack of compliance has resulted in catfish exporters not being able to access the American market.