Govt pushes to license Guyanese fishermen despite resistance by some Surinamese – VP Jagdeo tells Corentyne fisherfolk

By Andrew Carmichael

The Government will continue to do all it can to ensure that fishermen on the Corentyne are licensed to operate on the Corentyne River despite resistance from some Surinamese.
This is according to Vice President Bharat Jagdeo who met with fisherfolk on the Corentyne on Sunday.

Some of the fishermen at the meeting on Sunday

Following a high-level meeting in Guyana during August 2021, between President Dr Irfaan 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 licences 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 licences are issued to Surinamese businessmen at US$100 per year and rented to the Guyanese fisherfolk at US$3000 annually.
“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 Vice President told fishermen.
“The only thing that we can commit to is keeping the pressure up,” Jagdeo added while pointing out that the issue is a priority for the Guyana Government.
“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.”
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 licence 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.
Further, Jainarine related that the middlemen are now collecting back the licences which were rented to the Guyanese fishermen if they do not comply with the new imposed regulations.
Already four licences 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.
Meanwhile, Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha explained that the issue of licensing for the fisherfolk was on the table being discussed with officials in Suriname prior to the PPP/C being removed from office in 2015.
“We restarted those discussions when we returned to Government in August 2020. And there was a lot of commitment from the Surinamese. They were looking at the laws and said they were going to form a Government company and issue the licence to the fishermen directly. They promised in the first instance that they will give 150 licences.”
Mustapha said a meeting was held two months ago and Suriname had committed to an agreement made between the two nations.
Also speaking on the issue was Foreign Affairs Minister Hugh Todd who stated that the Government has been and will continue to advocate on behalf of the fisherfolk. “We are convinced that they have their own issues in Suriname, our responsibility is to ensure that we keep the dialogue open and keep the conversation going,” Todd told the fishermen.