Guyana protests Suriname’s foot-dragging in granting fishermen licences

…says harassment continues despite commitments
to expedite applications

Guyanese President Dr Irfaan Ali and Surinamese President Chandrikapersad Santokhi during a previous meeting

The Government of Guyana has expressed its condemnation of the continued harassment of Guyanese fishermen operating in Suriname waters, despite efforts at a bilateral level and even commitments from the Surinamese Head of State, to grant them licences.
In a statement on Monday, Minister of Agriculture Zulfikar Mustapha noted that as far as 2020, he had had conversations with his Surinamese counterpart Parmanand Sewdien and had requested the issuance of 150 SK licenses to allow the Guyanese fishermen to fish in Surinamese waters.
A commitment that the licences would be issued was also made to President Dr Irfaan Ali, during that very visit to Suriname. In another meeting between President Ali and President Santokhi earlier this year, further assurances were provided that the licences would be issued.
“Minister Mustapha recalled the earlier discussions between their Excellencies President Ali and the President of the Republic of Suriname, Chandrikapersad Santokhi, that there should be an agreement on the issuance of the number of licences requested by Guyana,” the Minister explained.
“Minister Sewdien also indicated that his Government would form a company that will deal with the issuing of licenses to the Guyanese fishermen. At the last meeting of President Ali and President Santokhi in Georgetown, it was agreed that by 1 January 2022, arrangements would have been put in place to facilitate the issuance of the 150 SK licenses to Guyanese fishermen.”
According to the Minister, the names of the persons desirous of being issued the licences were communicated to the Surinamese Ministry of Agriculture via a letter dated November 16, 2021. To date, however, the Government of Guyana has not been provided with an update on the status of the licences or the company that would issue the licences.
“In the absence of the issuance of these licenses, our fisherfolk continue to face harassment at the hands of the Surinamese authorities, including fishing vessels that are stranded in Suriname and cannot return to Guyana for fear of losing their licenses.”
“The Government of Guyana, therefore, calls on the Government of Suriname to not renege in its commitment and to make known the current position of the issuance of the licenses,” the Agriculture Minister said in the statement.
Following the high-level meeting in Guyana in August 2021 between President Ali and President 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. Currently, the licences are issued to Surinamese businessmen at US$100 per year and rented to the Guyanese fisherfolk at US$3000 annually.
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.
During a meeting with Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo in April of this year, 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 had 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 of 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 further explained that each boat is valued at over $4 million.