Some Surinamese against licensing Guyanese fishermen, gov’t relentless in finding solution’ – Jagdeo


By Kurt Campbell

Mere days after Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha assured Guyanese fishermen that the decades-old licensing issue with Suriname will be resolved soon, Vice President Dr. Bharrat Jagdeo on Sunday told fisherfolk on the Corentyne that there is push back from some in Suriname despite high-level talks between the neighbouring states and promises from the Surinamese government.

While the issue of low catches remains a concern for local fishermen, the main issue ventilated at the meeting on Sunday with the Vice President was the licensing of Guyanese fishermen by Suriname and the daily harassment they have long complained about when fishing in the Corentyne River that separates the two countries.

Guyanese fishermen have been complaining for years about the overpriced rental for licenses from Surinamese fishermen to operate in their waters.

It was previously reported that Guyanese fishermen operating along the Corentyne have to pay some US$3,000 to fish under an illegal arrangement with a licensed fishing company in Suriname.

And even when the fish is caught, it has to go to Suriname first and the rejected catch is then sent to Guyana.

With the direct grant of this licence to Guyanese fishermen, it will end many of the exploitative arrangements and in a major way arrest the issue of illegal fishing.

In August 2021, Guyana and Suriname came to an agreement that licenses will be issued directly to 150 Guyanese fishermen but that is yet to materialise although it was expected in January 2021.

A visibly frustrated Jagdeo told scores of fishermen gathered at the Classic Hotel in #79 Village, Corriverton, East Berbice, Corentyne, that although there had been commitments at the government level, there were persons in Suriname who were fighting to prevent the issue from being resolved.

Vice President Dr Bharrat Jagdeo addressing fisherfolk at the Classic Hotel in Corriverton (Photo: News Room/April 10, 2022)

“This here is a resistance to having the issue resolved because they want to pressure people more… some people there [in Suriname] are reluctant to have the issue solved and every time the leadership try to resolve it, there is push back,” Jagdeo said.

He assured the fishermen that despite the setbacks, the government was working relentlessly to get the issue resolved. He said Guyana’s Foreign Minister Hugh Todd continues to speak with his counterpart in Suriname while President Dr Irfaan Ali and Suriname President Chandrikapersad Santokhi were also continuing discussions on the issue.

“[It is] a difficult situation for us and nobody should doubt where our sympathy lies.

“There are a whole range of problems over there, we don’t control that, we wish if we could. We are in the same position that you are, a little helpless and it’s sad. I don’t want to admit it but it is true,” the Vice President posited.

He said the resistance by some people in Suriname to resolve the issue amounted to a “brutal reality” for Guyanese fishermen.

Jagdeo also noted complaints of discrimination and harassment.

Meanwhile, Minister Mustapha assured the fishermen that the Guyana Government was not letting on reaching a resolution. Mustapha returned from Suriname hours before the meeting on Sunday.

Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha addressing fisherfolk in Berbice (Photo: News Room/April 10, 2022)

He said the licensing issue is a matter the PPP/C government began discussions on more than a decade ago; in fact, Jagdeo said the issues existed since he was Finance Minister and continued under his presidency.

“We are trying our utmost…when we raise these issues, they are making commitments and then nothing. It is beyond our control,” Mustapha said.

He was backed up by Foreign Minister Todd who said he will keep the dialogue going.

“They [Suriname] have their own political issues and special interest…we are seeing progress on all other issues except the license but we will get it done despite the forces working against that,” Todd said.

The fishermen at the meeting insisted that the official licences from Suriname should be issued directly to them. This will allow them to ply their trade in maritime space claimed by Suriname.

The fishermen also complained that since the heightened efforts to resolve the matter, new measures have been implemented by Surinamese to impose hardships on Guyanese fishermen. They said the situation has not gotten any better in recent months.

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