President Dr Irfaan Ali says he is in constant contact with Surinamese President Chandrikapersad Santokhi in an effort to quickly resolve the issue of licensing Guyanese fisherfolk to operate in the neighbouring country, admitting that there have been difficulties in moving the process forward.
“We are two neighbouring countries and we must resolve this in a way that both our [fisherfolk] can benefit…we are facing tremendous difficulties.
“Guyana has welcomed investors from all over with open arms whether it’s from Trinidad or from Suriname. We have large investors from Suriname investing here and I think it’s only fair as neighbours that this issue gets resolved quickly,” the Guyanese Head-of-State told the News Room on Monday.
Suriname had agreed to issue some 150 SK fishing licenses to Guyanese fisherfolk and this is slated to be done by January 2022 but it was recently revealed that the Surinamese government has received pushback from its people there who are against the agreement.
Suriname’s fishing decree, 1980 (S.B. 1980 No. 144), as amended by Act S.B. 2001 No. 120 authorizes the government to make regulations for the protection of marine fish stocks and defines the fishery zone as the territorial waters of Suriname including the exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
By law of April 14, 1978, it prohibits Surinamese or foreigners from fishing in the fishery zone without a valid license.
While some deep-sea licenses are issued to foreigners, Suriname Coast (SK) and Inland Navigation (BV) licenses are only issued to Surinamese fishing vessels.
Even though the fishing license is non-transferable by law, licenses are ‘sold’ or ‘leased’ to Guyanese fishing boat owners; an exploitive arrangement that has gone on for decades.
BV licenses are issued to fishermen to work in creeks and rivers, including the estuary while SK licenses are granted to vessels with a Suriname Coast (Surinaamse Kust) to fish in the offshore zone along the breadth of the coast of Suriname.
Guyana and Suriname as neighbours had started discussions on resolving this issue to allow Guyanese to fish in the Corentyne River that separates the two states but in maritime space claimed by Suriname.
With both Guyana and Suriname experiencing a change in government in 2020, those discussions recommenced and during a visit by President Santokhi to Georgetown in August 2021, he agreed that by January 2022 some 150 Guyanese would be licensed to fish in Suriname’s coastal waters.
Such a move was hailed by Guyanese authorities as it would arrest the issue of illegal fishing and the decades-old complaints about the overpriced rental of 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.
On Sunday last, Guyana’s Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo, Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha and Foreign Affairs Minister Hugh Todd all told fishermen in Region Six (East Berbice – Corentyne) that there is push back from some persons in Suriname despite high-level talks between the neighbouring states.
That push back, which Surinamese media reported is led by the business community there, seemed linked to the fact that standing regulations prohibit the issuance of SK and BV fishing licenses to Guyanese as foreigners.
‘WE HAVE DOCUMENTS’
In a subsequent interview with the News Room, Mustapha confirmed that Guyana had requested and Suriname agreed to issue the SK licenses.
The Agriculture Minister said he has documents to prove what was agreed to, noting that when the right time comes, he will ensure those documents are made available to the press.
“I have documents in my possession,” Mustapha told the News Room.
When asked about the prohibitive regulations in Suriname which makes the issuing of the license illegal, Mustapha said this formed part of the discussions between Guyana and Suriname and in a proposal submitted to Guyana by Suriname, a legal path around those regulations was proposed.
“When we had those discussions, all these were taken into consideration and what Guyanese will have to do to benefit from the license… if it stands now that they can’t get the licenses, I assure you that those things were taken into consideration, all those issues.
“As I said, I have documents to show the proposition from the Surinamese how it can happen… so that’s a non-issue,” Mustapha added.