Guyanese fishermen complain of constant harassment by Surinamese authorities

A group of fishermen who were at the meeting
A group of fishermen who were at the meeting

Recently, there have been reports that Guyanese fishermen who operate in the Corentyne River are being harassed and robbed by Suriname’s military officers. The fishermen related that the officers who patrol the river are preventing them from plying their trade.

In light of these concerns, Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha promised to engage Foreign Affairs Minister Hugh Todd on the concerns raised by the fishermen.

The fishermen raised the concerns with Mustapha on Saturday during a meeting at Skeldon. The Minister in addressing the issue told the fisherfolk that they should be allowed to operate in the Corentyne River without being fearful of their lives.

“Guyana fishermen should have users’ rights for the river. For example, if we are going to Orealla, we have to travel on the Corentyne River.”

On this note, the Minister stated that after an engagement with the two Caricom countries, it was agreed that Guyanese fishermen will be able to use the Corentyne River to ply their trade, adding that he is surprised to hear the concerns being raised again.

“What they told us is that they are willing to give the fishermen licences both for the Corentyne River and for their waters [deep waters (Atlantic Ocean)]. We don’t see it that our fisherfolk should have a licence to fish in the Corentyne River. We will continue to have discussions with them,” Mustapha said.

Nevertheless, the meeting on Saturday was called after a group of fishermen reported that one of their boats was recently seized by the military and taken to a port in Suriname.

Presently, there are about 35 vessels that are being operated by Guyanese in the Corentyne River with approximately 200 fishermen. This is apart from the vendors, boat builders and seine repairmen.

One fisherman, Robindra Latchman, told this publication that he has a licence to operation in the Corentyne River but he and his crew are still being harassed by Surinamese authorities.

“That is a Dutch licence. We paying US$800 for the licence… When you in the river they would pull up near to your boat and look for the biggest fish that you have and take them. I told them that I am paying for the incence so you can’t take the fish but they don’t want you to argue with them because they want to pull you in.”

Latchman stated that in order to operate with the licences, they first have to travel to Suriname and get their passports.

Meanwhile, some of the fishermen related that the Surinamese authorities sometimes demand that they give them the equivalent of US$100 to be allowed to fish.

The fishermen who operate in the Corentyne River use drift seines and do not catch as much fish as those who operate in the deep sea.

Following, Saturday’s meeting, Mustapha reached out to Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Hugh Todd asking him to engage his Suriname counterpart on the issue. A delegation from Guyana travelled to Suriname in April to discuss several issues including the granting of licences to Guyanese fisherfolk to operate in the Atlantic Ocean which is in Suriname’s territory.

Chairman of the Number 66 Fishermen’s Co-op Society, Pamashwar Jainarine was a part of the delegation that went to Suriname and related that the Surinamese authorities are seeking to stamp out the middle man.

According to Jainarine, the foreign authorities want the local fishers to say who are the middlemen in Suriname they are renting the licences from.

“We assume that they would take the licences from them and give it to us, but the fishermen are reluctant to do that because they say fishing is the only source of their livelihood. So, if they take away the incences from the Surinamese and then don’t give it to us then we wouldn’t get any licence to fish.”

On this note as well, the local fisherfolk argued that the Surinamese authorities already have records of those persons who were granted dozens of fishing licences.

Meanwhile, Mustapha has since sought the intervention of Minister Todd so that the Guyanese fishermen can continue to fish along the Corentyne River until the issue is resolved.