THE public has an overwhelming appetite for political news and developments and accordingly, the media focuses on such. Thus matters of social and even economic importance are often given a secondary place or even ignored. One such item of socio-economic news which has been barely mentioned and which engendered no public comment is the recent presentation by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) of a booklet titled “Onboard Guide for Identification of Marine Endangered, Threatened and Protected (ETP) and other Key Species” to the Ministry of Agriculture and those involved in the Fishing Industry.
This water-resistant booklet was financed by the WWF of the Netherlands but its content was prepared by WWF of Guyana. The WWF has had a long history of quietly helping Guyana to preserve its wildlife and among such assistance has been the hosting of training sessions and workshops.
Very often fishermen would catch fish and other marine species which they do not want and may leave them to perish. Sometimes they may catch species of fish which are protected or even given seasonal protection to maintain the sustainability of the fishing grounds without their being aware that they are destructive of the ecology. The booklet identifies 42 ETP species which includes sharks, rays, sea turtles and marine mammals. The Guide would help fishermen as well as the Ministry of Agriculture regulatory officers to easily and accurately identify ETP and Key Marine Species and satisfies a longstanding need. It should be reiterated that the Guide is meant for practical day to day use by fishermen and this fact of its being water-resistant emphasises this.
The WWF Guianas presented the Guide Booklet to those involved in the Fishing Industry and these included members of staff of the Fisheries Department and the Seabob Working Groups and the major commercial fishers – the Association of Trawler Owners and Seafood Processors (GATOSP), and the captains and managers of Prittipaul Singh Investments, Noble House Seafoods and Gopie Investments Inc.
From time immemorial the Oceans and their inhabitants have helped to feed humanity and maintain human existence. In some communities the seas are a more important source of food than agriculture, Such communities would include, for instance, several pre-Columbian tribes who inhabited the islands of the Caribbean or the Marsh Arabs of Iraq or the numerous fishing villages worldwide. In Guyana, fish, prawns and other marine life including sea-moss (used for desserts) are a part of the diet of most Guyanese and the Fishing Industry is also an important employer and foreign exchange earner.
At the presentation of the Guides, Ms Sopheia Edghill, the Marine conservation officer of WWF Guianas gave an overview of the contents of the guide booklet, how it would assist fishermen, help to preserve the Ecology and its economic importance. She explained that in compiling the contents of the booklet, the species were selected based on their relevance to the commercial fisheries and their life history characteristics. Since the Guide was meant for practical day-to-day use onboard, it did not provide detailed information on the biology, behaviour or ecology of the species but it provided detailed information that would easily allow for accurate identification of the species. There are illustrations of the species identifying their characteristics, their habitat, size, similar species, their conservation status and handling practices if caught.
The Principal Fisheries Officer of the Ministry of Agriculture, Ms Ingrid Peters, thanked WWF for partnering with the Fisheries Department over the years and playing a critical role in the Department’s development. She mentioned the WWF’s support to the Observer Programme where the data was used by the assessors for the Guyana Seabob Marine Stewardship Council Certification.
The country manager of the World Wildlife Fund Guianas, Ms Aiesha Williams, expressed her pleasure in partnering with the Fisheries Sector. She felt the guide booklet will help to keep the species in their natural habitats to balance the ecosystem and ensure their existence for both economic and ecological purposes. “We see this”, she said, “as an important part of our work, as part of the Ocean Programme, specifically marine turtle conservation and sustainable fisheries”.