Updated: Guyana condemns Suriname’s harassment of Guyanese fisherfolk; Suriname already says licensing Guyanese vessels will be illegal

Last Updated on Tuesday, 6 September 2022, 6:23 by Denis Chabrol

Although Suriname has already said that the granting of fishing licences to Guyanese would be illegal, the Guyana government on Monday condemned Suriname’s harassment of Guyanese fisherfolk in the waters of that neighbouring country and lamented the apparent slothfulness in  sticking to an agreement to grant fishing boat licences to Guyanese.

The Government of Guyana condemns, in its strongest possible terms, the most recent harassment being meted out to our Guyanese fisherfolk by the Surinamese government, inclusive of its failure to grant licenses to our fishermen in keeping with a commitment made to His Excellency, Dr Mohamed Irfaan Ali, President of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana on 26 November 2020, during a visit to Suriname,” the government said in a statement. 

The Suriname government has been under intense pressure from the opposition there not to grant fishing licences to Guyanese fisherfolk. Back in June 2022, the Federation of Surinamese Agrarians (FSA) and Suriname Seafood Association (SSA) had demanded transparency about the granting of fishing licenses to illegal Guyanese fishermen. The sector has also demanded that the government in Paramaribo shows how Suriname will benefit financially and the legal basis for issuing such licences.

But the Guyana government on Monday publicly appealed to the Suriname government not to back-pedal on the Ally-Santokhi agreement for the granting of 150 Surinamese Coastal fishing licences to Guyanese. “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 licences,” Georgetown said.

The Ali administration blamed the Suriname government for the plight being faced by Guyanese fisherfolk in the Suriname’s coastal waters. “In the absence of the issuance of these licences, 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 licences,” the Guyana government said. 

While the Guyana government said that President Ali and President Santokhi, while in Georgetown, had agreed that by 1 January 2022 arrangements would have been put in place to facilitate the issuance of the 150 SK licences to Guyanese fishermen, Suriname’s Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries Parmanand in April 2022 denied that there was ever such an agreement. “That considerable pressure is now being exerted and increased on Suriname so openly is unacceptable,” Sewdien had been quoted as saying.

Taking into account this decision, the Guyana government said Minister of Agriculture Zulfikar Mustapha communicated the names of the persons interested in being issued licenses via a letter dated 16 November 2021 to his Surinamese counterpart. “To date, the Government of Guyana has not been advised on the status of the establishment of the company referred to, nor on the issuances of the licenses,” Georgetown said.

The Guyana government said following talks between the Presidents of Guyana and Suriname, that Mr Mustapha asked Mr Sewdien to issue 150 SK licences which will allow Guyanese fishermen to ply their trade in the Atlantic sea off the coast of Suriname. That request, according to the Guyana government, was based on the need for an agreement for the issuance of the number of licences requested by Guyana.

The Guyana government also recalled that Minister Sewdien also indicated that his government would form a company that will deal with the issuing of licences to the Guyanese fishermen.

But Mr Sewdien had reportedly recalled that  in November 2020, his side had indicated that the Suriname government would examine Guyana’s proposal as the granting of fishing licences to small fishermen would not be possible in accordance with Surinamese legislation.

Starnieuws had also reported that Guyana had dispatched a list of names if boats that land their fish in Guyana, but the Surinamese Agriculture Minister  had reportedly indicated that those permits should be revoked immediately. Further investigation shows that these boats also land in Suriname on the basis of which their licenses are renewed every year. “A tentative conclusion that could be drawn is that, in most cases, copied permits have been leased to the Guyanese. Guyana cannot invoke these illegally traded ‘licences’ and derive rights from them,” Mr Sewdien had said.

According to the minister, there are also many cases of double and multiple boats with the same name and registration number. Also boats without name and registration number.