Guyana awaits word from US on catfish ban

Last Updated on Tuesday, 11 July 2023, 15:00 by Denis Chabrol

Guyana is still awaiting a reply from the United States Department of Agriculture to several submissions aimed at having that North American country lift an almost six-year old ban on catfish, according to Agriculture Minister Zulfikar Mustapha.

With Guyana having recently updated its previous submission, he said the Ministry of Agriculture was awaiting word from the Department of Agriculture’ Food Safety and Inspection Service “to tell us what’s the next move.”

Information provided to the US included test results of the quality and temperature of Guyana’s sea water, he said.

Mr Mustapha said the then coalition of A Partnership for National Unity+Alliance For Change (APNU+AFC) administration had been notified two years before the catfish ban was imposed. “If they were following the report and what the people wanted, we would have never been in this position,” he said.

The Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the Guyana National Fisherfolk Organisation (GNFO) have, meanwhile, underscored the importance of keeping fishing grounds clean.

GNFO Chairman, Parmeshwar Jainarine said government was expected to put regulations in place for fish processing plants to have food inspectors while the catfish is being processed. “Many of these plants are private plants and you can’t put somebody in the plant without the owner having a say so with the regulations, it will be compulsory that we have to have these inspectors,” he said. However, the Agriculture Minister said there was no such requirement.

On the condition that Guyana must prove to the US that the catfish here was not being fed growth hormones, he said “we don’t farm catfish, we do wild-caught catfish so that was a misunderstanding that needed to be sort out.” Mr Jainarine said Guyana’s catfish was not being caught far offshore where there are species that consume human waste.

The GNFO Chairman believed that the ban was imposed as a result of a stiff US domestic lobby by catfish suppliers. “To me, it’s a protectionist measure by the catfish association in the US that make it harder for cheaper products from the Caribbean coming into the US market,” he said.

FAO Country Director Gillian Smith said that United Nations organisation remained ready to work with Guyana whose fish exports have to comply with international food safety rules. “The fish that Guyana exports, the fish products that Guyana exports have to meet global standards in order to get into global markets,” she said.

Director of Fisheries, Denzil Roberts appealed to fisherfolk to “play your part in ensuring that the ocean remains healthy” by stop dumping waste oil, plastics and old nets in the ocean  to ensure that the fish is safe and wholesome for consumption. “Remember to leave the ocean as clean as you would have found it,” he said. Mr Roberts noted that inspectors go to fishing grounds for about 12 days to ensure that fishes are caught in a sustainable manner and make management decisions including seeking new markets.

Mr Jainarine advised fisherfolk and vendors to ensure “fresh and wholesome seafood” reach local and foreign consumers by practicing good personal hygiene such as washing their hands, wearing protective clothing and avoiding coughing, sneezing and smoking while icing and packing fish. He also said fisherfolk must stop dumping garbage and waste engine oil into the ocean.