The Ministry of Agriculture is in receipt of reports that some fishermen operating in the Corentyne River are now being forced to pay increased fees as they continue to wait on the Surinamese Government to honour a commitment made to the President Dr Irfaan Ali administration to issue licences to stakeholders in the Guyanese fishing industry.
Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha told this publication that to date, the impasse on the issuance of the fishing licences still exists, despite a number of bilateral talks on the matter between Guyana and Suriname.
Mustapha said he plans to soon engage Guyana’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Hugh Todd to “deal with the matter and look at a way forward”.
The Agriculture Minister indicated that this is particularly important since, “some fisherfolks are saying they have to pay increased fees now to their counterparts in Suriname.”
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.
Following the high-level meeting in Guyana during August 2021 between President 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. This fee has now apparently increased.
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, 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.
President Ali has previously expressed that his government is not happy with the way fisherfolk are currently treated. The Guyanese Head of State had even revealed that he reached out to representatives of the Surinamese Private Sector on the issue. “I called key members of the Surinamese Private Sector myself to let them understand we treat everyone equally here, we give everyone an opportunity here and that they should ensure that similar treatment is accorded to Guyanese,” he explained to the media in September 2022.
Guyana’s Vice President, Dr Bharrat Jagdeo is on record saying that the Guyana Government has suspicions why the Santokhi-led Administration is not honouring its pledges.
“Sometimes they go back and forth because the right people are making a lot of money off of these licences over there, so, they don’t want to give them [to Guyanese]. Therefore, they are fighting. Even when there is goodwill at the level of the Government, there is a problem at other levels,” Jagdeo had contended.