Berbice fishermen excited about Guyana’s future in aquaculture
– appeal for crackdown on smuggling, assistance for small farmers
His Excellency, Dr. Irfaan Ali has announced that government will soon launch an aquaculture masterplan that will see the sector take off.
The Head of State said government was encouraged to think outside the box and move to transition to an aquaculture-based operation as a result of climate change and the changing landscape of the fisheries industry.
The Ministry of Agriculture, through the Fisheries Department, has since commenced sensitisation and consultation exercises with the fisherfolk community to organise and ensure the sector is developed in a sustainable manner.
On Saturday last, Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha met several fishermen from Region Six – the largest shrimp-producing Region – to inform them of government’s plans for the sector and to get their input on what government can do to assist them.
“We want to launch an aquaculture master plan. Aquaculture doesn’t only involve shrimp. It also includes other species of seafood. As it is now, the industry is not where it needs to be in our country so we have to develop it. This means we have to put in a lot of work and we have to ensure that we get the necessary funding and the necessary skill set,” Minister Mustapha said.
The subject Minister went on to say that Guyana’s geographical position puts it at an advantage in terms of offering fresh produce to large markets abroad.
“We all know that the aquaculture industry is very lucrative. Countries in North America are getting these products from countries like China and India. Guyana is positioned in a very strategic geographic position in the Caribbean. If we can develop our aquaculture sector, within a day we can send our products to North America, whereas countries like China and India would have to freeze their products and it would take days before these products can reach their destination,” Minister Mustapha added.
Ronald Arjoon, a fisherman from Region Six said that if the government intends to develop the sector, there needs to be some amount of protection for fishermen from smuggled products, which often pose a challenge to their trade.
“I must commend the Honourable Minister for being here. The only problem now is, for us to develop the industry, we have to get protection first. So, I’m appealing to the Minister, we’ve already done it for years. Night and day, we are having shrimp and fish smuggled into the country and it is affecting the aquaculture industry so badly that sometimes farmers cannot even sell their produce. Not because the products that came in smuggled will compete with us in terms of better prices but the quality is bad. The other thing to add to that is the people are being fooled. Using the farmers’ names in Guyana. That the shrimp and fish coming from various Guyanese farms and people might go in the market and not know where the shrimp or fish coming from. When somebody tells you it came from a recognized farm in Guyana you will buy it and it carries our reputation down because the quality is not good. When the people taste it and they don’t like it they wouldn’t come back to you,” Mr. Arjoon said.
Suedat Persaud, Secretary of the East Berbice Aquaculture Association, also spoke about the smuggling of shrimp and fish from Suriname.
“If we are to go in this direction to develop aquaculture, we have to look at the challenges. One of the main challenges is this same shrimp from Suriname. I wrote almost 200 letters from 2015 to now. We had about 45 meetings with different people. Recently we had a meeting with Customs and the Police. We gave them information, the vehicle number, the timing, the village where they’re coming and so on. Eventually, Customs catch them. A few days ago, this man start to bring back this Suriname shrimp again. When I call Customs, they said that the man is coming in front now paying duty. I told the man they have to get Public Health documents from Suriname and have Public Health here to clear them. He said I have the wrong idea in my head. I’m appealing to the authorities to probably install more control over this, have more competent people because we are seeing bribery and corruption with these Public Health people. If we are pumping money into aquaculture, we cannot have four or five people destroying it,” Mr. Persaud said.
Harrynarine Mathura, another fisherman from Albion said small fishermen need help with machines to prepare their ponds from time to time.
“We have some people that always get good production in their ponds because they have machines to dig their ponds. The other poor farmers they cannot afford to do that. You gotta bulldoze the ‘dutty’, you gotta turn it over so when you take in the next crop of water the shrimps can grow. After six months or so you have to turn the land. If you don’t do that, the fresh mud that comes from the sea becomes sour and after it becomes sour the shrimps can no longer graze on the mud to grow and develop. The small farmers cannot afford a $200,000 or $300,000 to do over their ponds so we’d need help with that,” Mr. Mathura said.
Minister Mustapha informed the fishermen that a committee is now in place to look at all the issues and suggestions put forward and will craft plans to sustainably develop the sector.
“We have a committee set up by His Excellency, headed by myself that will work to develop plans and programmes to start the aquaculture activities in our country. Some very experienced persons are on the committee. We have Mr. Anthony Vieira, Mr. Tejnarine Geer who is a former Chief Fisheries Officer, and Mr. Pritipaul Singh on this committee. The Ministry has also written to the Indian Government through their High Commissioner in Guyana and they have indicated that they will assist us with technical skills through training from experts from India.
So, within a matter of months, three technical officers from India will be coming to work with us to develop our plan for the sector. We are currently doing the groundwork to launch this plan and looking at large acreages of land. We are also engaging the Guyana Lands and Surveys Commission (GLSC) and the MMA because areas like West Coast Berbice are full of lands suitable for this type of development. So, while government is working to develop the traditional sectors, we are pursuing new and innovative programmes to take sectors like the aquaculture sector forward,” Minister Mustapha said.
The subject Minister added that while government intends to improve agriculture generally, the aquaculture sector is being targeted for massive development in both the long and short term, with government aiming to increase annual shrimp production from 150,000 kg and 200,000 kg to 500,000 kg. He further stated that government will be assisting farmers with feed, fingerlings, and other materials to help their production.