Pres. Ali appeals for Surinamese businesses to stand in solidarity with Guyanese fishermen

Boats moored at the Number 66 Fisherman's Co-op Society

As the Guyana Government continues to push for local fisherfolk to become licensed by Surinamese authorities to operate along the Corentyne River, President Dr Irfaan Ali has issued a call to the business community of the neighbouring country to stand in solidarity with the Guyanese fishermen.

In August 2021, following a high-level meeting in Guyana between President Ali and Surinamese Head of State President Chandrikapersad Santokhi, the two leaders had issued a joint press statement indicating that the age-old issue of licenses for Guyanese fisherfolk to operate in Suriname’s territorial waters will 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.

Currently, the licenses are issued to Surinamese businessmen at US$100 per year and rented to the Guyanese fisherfolk at US$3000 annually.

To date, however, the matter remains unresolved.

“I spoke to president Santokhi sometime [Wednesday] afternoon. I spoke to Minister [of Foreign Affairs Albert] Ramdin also [Wednesday afternoon]. They said to be that they are going to send some statistics to show how many licenses were issued to Guyanese. Minister Ramdin claimed that a high percentage of licenses issued by the Surinamese authorities were issued to Guyanese, so I am waiting for that. And President Santokhi assured me that the remaining issues will be addressed and that we will have a solution soon,” President Ali told reporters during a sideline interview on Wednesday evening.

“We are not wavering on our position. We must have a resolution on this issue,” the Guyanese Head of State affirmed.

Nevertheless, President Ali reminded of the support enjoyed by Surinamese businesses in Guyana and appealed that this be reciprocated for Guyanese fisherfolks.

“We have been asking for these licenses for our fisherfolks. Guyana has always been welcoming to investors, we’ve always opened our arms and welcomed investors. We have Surinamese investors…in insurance, financial services, supplies, constructions…and we’ve always supported them. And I expect that these investors too, the private sector from Suriname…would also add their voice on this issue to ensure that our fisherfolks are not treated differently,” he posited.

Surinamese President Chan Santokhi and Guyana’s President Dr Irfaan Ali

Last week, during an outreach to Region Six (East Berbice-Corentyne), Vice President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo contended that Guyanese authorities will keep the pressure up on this matter.

“This issue was discussed at the highest level during which an agreement was put in writing. We can’t go higher than that raising this matter and still it is unsolved. More so, you have discrimination against our fishermen because some have complained of harassment and we think that there is a group of people out there who are benefitting enormously from this – the current system, they want it to stay like this…the only thing that we can commit to is keeping the pressure up,” Jagdeo explained.

“Dealing with this means we have to wait on them, we cannot make the decisions because it is another country and it is their waters we are talking about. Never for one minute should the fisherman of this country doubt for one moment where the People’s Progressive Party sympathy is; it is just that we are in the same boat with you. Trying to get this solved for a long time,” the Vice President added.

Vice President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo during his outreach in Region Six

About 150 boats operate from the Number 66 Fisherman’s Co-op Society thus providing direct employment for about 800 fishermen. Additionally, some 200 persons are employed in providing services which include transportation, fish vending and repairs to machinery and equipment.

However, Chairman of the Fishing Co-op, Pamashwar Jainarine explained that while they were expecting to get their license for 2022, fisherfolk are now being further pressured. He said the Surinamese are now demanding that they reduce the size of their vessels.

Currently, most of the boats are 40 feet in length and they are now asked to reduce them to 30 feet. Jainarine argued that because of the amount of ice that is needed to store catch during a fishing expedition and the 100 pounds seine they carry, using the suggested smaller boat will not work.

Further, it is now required that the fishermen leave their boats on Suriname’s side of the Corentyne River. However, the Co-op Chairman pointed out that no security is provided to secure the boats and the water current is very strong which could result in them being pulled into the Atlantic.

He explained that each boat is valued at over $4 million.

Chairman of the Fishing Co-op, Pamashwar Jainarine

Further, Jainarine related that the middlemen are now collecting back the licenses which were rented to the Guyanese fishermen if they do not comply with the new imposed regulations.

Already four licenses have been reclaimed.

“If we do this, the co-op will have to close because there are a number of people who depend on this co-op. They will have to sell all of their fish to Suriname and so the fishing industry here will die. They will have to buy their ice in Suriname and that is with one of the things we here at the co-op used to generate revenue,” he pointed out.