Fishing licence impasse to be addressed as Guyana, Suriname to meet soon

Some fishing vessels docked at a wharf in Region Six (East Berbice-Corentyne)

Technical teams from Guyana and Suriname will soon meet to discuss a number of matters and find a way forward for increased collaboration. One of the critical matters on the agenda will be the fishing licence standoff.

In an exclusive interview with this publication, Foreign Affairs Minister Hugh Todd explained that teams from Guyana and Suriname will soon be meeting. While a venue has not yet been established, he explained that the delay in Guyanese fishermen being provided with licences to fish in Suriname’s waters will be on the agenda.

“We’re preparing to meet shortly, Guyana and Suriname. A team comprised of Foreign Ministers, Agriculture Ministers, as well as technical officers. So, we’re planning to meet again to work on the strategic dialogue platform, which we established in 2020. The fishing licence is just one agenda item on that comprehensive agreement. So, it’s a work in progress,” Minister Todd said.

According to the Foreign Minister, the matter must be resolved in a mutually beneficial and timely manner. He also explained that while the meeting is a scheduled one, there have been competing issues that have been engaging the attention of his Ministry.

“I think both the Foreign Ministers and Agriculture Minister in Suriname, they’re very cognisant of the fact that this is a very important matter. We’ve also reiterated the fact that we have to have it resolved, to bring a speedy resolution. Because it’s been lingering for too long. And we have citizens who have been affected,” the Foreign Minister added.

Despite promises by Suriname at the bilateral level to issue licences to Guyanese fishermen to operate in their waters, this has not materialised. In fact, licences were supposed to have been issued in 2021. Suriname, for its part, has urged Guyana to await the diplomatic channels.

Following the high-level meeting in Guyana during August 2021 between President Dr Irfaan Ali and Surinamese President Chandrikapersad Santokhi, the two leaders issued a joint press statement indicating that the age-old issue of licences for Guyanese fisherfolk to operate in Suriname’s territorial waters would be addressed.

These fishermen operate from the Corentyne coast and have to use the Corentyne to get access to the Atlantic where they get most of their catch. The Corentyne River is considered Surinamese territory. A situation had arisen whereby the licences were being issued to Surinamese businessmen at US$100 per year and rented to the Guyanese fisherfolk at US$3000 annually.

Email correspondence sent from high officials in the Surinamese Government, to their Guyanese counterparts, revealed that Suriname had promised Guyana, that the fishing licence for Guyanese to fish in Surinamese waters would have been issued on January 1, 2021.

In the email dated December 13, 2020, which was seen by this publication, Surinamese Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Prahlad Sewdien had written to Guyana’s Minister of Agriculture, Zulfikar Mustapha, informing him that the fishing licences would be issued from January 1 of the next year and that they would try to have preparations completed within two weeks.

The email also acknowledged the list of fishermen that Mustapha had sent to Sewdien, while also suggesting various actions that should be taken to complete the process of issuing the licences, under Surinamese law.