Govt working to resolve issues affecting local fishing industry – Mustapha

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Fishermen from across the country were today recognised for their invaluable contribution to the development of Guyana’s economy as the Fisheries Department of the Ministry of Agriculture hosted a simple but significant exercise in observance of National Fisherfolks Day 2021.

Today’s National Fisherfolks Day exercise, which was observed under the theme ‘Promoting Social Responsibility to Safeguard Fisheries Resources and Livelihood’, was hosted at the Bourda Cricket Club.

Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha, while delivering remarks said government has been working to address many of the issues faced by fisherfolks in the industry.

“Over the years, more so over the last ten months, the Ministry of Agriculture has been working to resolve many of the issues faced by the fishing industry. Issues like not having safety nets for fisherfolk in times of need, financing bodies being reluctant to offer insurance coverage to certain classes of vessels, cases where no serious attempts have been made to have fisherfolks registered with the National Insurance Scheme (NIS), among other things are high on our agenda.”

“These issues have been discussed and we hope to soon have them addressed in the interest of all parties involved. So far, this government has been making a lot of strides and we will continue to develop this sector that has somewhat become vulnerable as a result of climate change and other global economic factors. Government will also continue to make necessary budgetary allocations to improve the infrastructure and technology within the sector,” Minister Mustapha said.

Fisheries contribute to 3% of Guyana’s agriculture gross domestic product (GDP), and approximately G$11.35 billion to Guyana’s exports, which represents about 6% of Guyana’s total exports.

Since taking office, government has undertaken several initiatives to promote safeguarding Guyana’s fishing resources. Some of those interventions include imposing a significant reduction in licensing fees, resuscitating several fishermen cooperatives, associations, and committees as well as the removal of Value Added Tax (VAT) on fishing gear and equipment.

President of the Guyana Association of Trawler Owners and Seafood Processors (GATOSP) Mr. Ruben Charles made calls for fisherfolk, more so the artisanal fishermen to be more unified. He also said that the Trawler Association, like other stakeholders in the sector, also faced challenges.

“Having to sometimes deal with artisanal fishermen, I still think one of the problems with the artisanal fisheries is the lack of cooperation. It’s not a unified group and unless they become unified, they would continue to have most of the problems they are facing,” Charles said.

“The Trawlers Association is faced with low catches and the unavailability of fuel. The government provided a facility where the trawling industry was getting their fuel directly from third-party people overseas. We have not had that agreement renewed since 2019,” he added.

Minister Mustapha alluded to the fact that fisheries and aquaculture play very critical roles in global food security as well as the global recovery process from the COVID-19 crisis. He also said that the ongoing flooding across the country has had a negative impact on the nation’s aquaculture farmers.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in market disruptions that severely affected incomes, food availability, and affordability, the lives of small-scale fishers and fishing communities. In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic significantly affected production and earning in the fisheries sector, with production falling by 12% from 2019. In 2021 the challenges for the fisheries sector continue and are compounded by the impact of climate change. As Guyana continues to experience unprecedented rainfall and floods an initial assessment has indicated that over 60 aquaculture farmers which account for approximately 1,000 acres have not been able to harvest their production,” Minister Mustapha said.

Chairman of the Number 66 Village Fishermen’s Co-op Society, Pamashwar Jainarine said unfavourable climatic variations over the last few years in addition to the ongoing global pandemic have made visible the vulnerability of the industry.

“Fishing as we know it, despite the efforts of the stakeholders, the Fisheries Department, the co-ops, and so on, has not been doing as well as we would’ve liked. This pandemic has devastated many in the business. This industry has been one that has felt the full impact. The prices for our catch have been reduced in some cases by over 30% to 40%. Our expenses are going up and the demand for our catch is not there. Most of the major exporters are not buying in the volumes they normally do. In addition to that, we’ve had some of the most extreme and harsh weather conditions. Five to six months ago, it was heavy winds and stormy seas affecting the fishermen. Now it’s heavy rains and flooding.

These happenings have shown how vulnerable the fishing industry is,” Mr. Jainarine said.

Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Resident Representative in Guyana, Dr. Gillian Smith while delivering remarks said despite the many challenges faced globally, Guyana’s fishing industry was able to secure a substantial amount of revenue in 2020.

“This year’s theme coincides with the commitment and contributions of fisherfolks to enhance livelihoods and consequently reducing hunger and poverty. It also promotes social responsibility to safeguard fish stocks which take into account; fish habitat loss, pollution, and climate change effects. Over the last decade, fish consumption has grown significantly.

However, since the pandemic hit, consumers’ earning and spending were restricted by lockdowns along with hotels and restaurants closure resulting in the disruption of the supply chains globally and a reduction in the demand for fish. Despite these issues, the Guyana fishing industry secured revenue in excess of $16 billion, while aquaculture generated almost $208 million for 2020,” Dr. Smith said.

She also disclosed that the FAO has designated 2022 as the year of Artisanal or small scale Fisheries and Aquaculture with the aim of continuing in its efforts to engage policymakers, development partners, academia, the private sector, small-scale fisheries, and aquaculture organizations, and the general public to continue to support the sustainability of the sector and the livelihood of fisherfolks which is essential to everyone.

Minister Mustapha also informed those in attendance that his Ministry plans to engage the Ministry of Public Works to reinstate a fuel agreement between the government and the Association which would see them once again being able to purchase fuel from a third-party supplier. He also reminded attendees that it was the PPP/C Government that put that system in place in 2004, adding that government will continue to support the Association and the entire sector.

The Fisheries Department also presented two awards as part of the day’s activities. Best fisherman for 2021 was awarded to Kaheel Mohammed, while the most improved Cooperative Society was awarded to the Upper Corentyne Fishermen Cooperative Society.