SOME 150 licences will soon be distributed to Guyanese fisherfolk who have been subjected to exorbitant prices for the rental of licences to ply their trade in Suriname’s waters for the past decade.
The licences will be given to boat owners at a cost of 500 Suriname Guilders (SG) annually. In the past, the fishers have been paying as much as US$4000 in order to rent a licence from a Surinamese so that they can fish.
In addition to dealing with this high cost, the fisherfolk are sometimes forced to give the bulk of their catch at cheap rates to the person whose licence they had rented.
The Upper Corentyne Fishermen Co-op Society (UCFCS) have since praised President Irfaan Ali and Vice-President, Bharrat Jagdeo, for their role in securing the new arrangement.
Speaking with the Guyana Chronicle recently, the society’s chairman, Pameshwar Jainarine, stated that the boats operating out of the Number 66 Fisheries and the Number 65 Fishing Complex are often said to be operating in Suriname’s waters. If they are not in possession of the required licence, they are held and their catch seized, he said.
According to Jainarine, the fishermen would usually have to pay fines ranging from US$10,000 to US$12,000.
He told this publication that given the circumstances, the fishermen and Surinamese nationals came to an agreement whereby the latter would rent licences to Guyanese boat owners under the guise that they (the Surinamese) are the owners of vessels and have employed a Guyanese crew.
This arrangement has been in place for some 17 years.
The chairman explained to this publication that if an incident occurs, the licensee is the one who has to make the report and sometimes they are not around or have the necessary finances. He said with this new arrangement, Guyanese fishermen and boat owners can now move freely and request whatever assistance they need from the Surinamese authorities without having to go through anyone.
In providing a background on how the new arrangement came into being, he stated that the UCFCS decided to form a delegation to meet with President Ali. He said they noticed that the two governments were partnering on major projects which included the proposed Guyana/Suriname bridge, and decided to try to get licences for 50 boats.
“We formed a delegation and went to President Ali and when we reach, we asked for 50 licences but he asked how many boats we have at the co-op and we told him 146. So, he said why ask for only 50 when you have so much more boats…We were not certain we were getting the licence because of how long we have been trying but we listened to the president’s advice [and] we returned and submitted the names and information for the 150 boats and it was granted,” he said.
He added: “ We are so happy and relieved because this will make our lives so much easier and better.”
In a joint press conference with Suriname President, Chandrikapersad Santokhi, in August, President Ali announced that the two countries will be working towards the issuance of the licences by January 2022, since that is the period when they are usually granted.
This announcement was met with excitement from the Guyanese fisherfolk and some dissention from the members of the opposition party in Suriname who were of the view that this does not benefit Suriname and will cause the Surinamese to lose out.
Jainarine, during the interview, emphasised that the granting of a licence to a Guyanese will not affect the number of boats that are fishing in the Dutch nation’s economic zone since the Surinamese nationals, who were renting the licences, are not the owners of fishing boats.
“They don’t own the boats. It’s our boats they take and use to get the licences and they charge us money to rent the licence. When they have inspection, they say the boats are in the sea and they notify us to be present for whichever date so we can bring the boats and get them inspected.
They tell the authorities that the boats are theirs and we are operating it for them, so they get the licence. This won’t affect the quota in Suriname because is the same amount of boats, but the only difference is that the rightful owners of the boat will now get their licences,” he added.
The UCFCS is, however, keen to ask that their members strictly adhere to the rules under which the licences will be issued.
Meanwhile, a boat owner, Sachin Ramrattan, said the decision to issue the licence to Guyanese has removed the tension they have endured for so many years.
He noted that fishing in Suriname’s waters will now feel safer.
“It’s US$3000 and over; we have to pay that straight from our pockets. No matter what, we have to find the money and it’s cash money. There is nothing like an agreement to work and pay at the start of the year; you have to find that money. So, it’s been so hard over the past years .
It would be a big ease once this comes through because it will be far cheaper and save us,” Ramrattan, who operates five fishing boats, said.
He added that he hopes in the future the number of licences granted can be increased so that other fisherfolk from other ports in the region can benefit.
“The boats from the Number 66 co-op [are] most affected… because as soon as we enter outside of our area, we enter Suriname water. As it stands, some people who want the licence have never worked in Suriname before. So, it’s a very worrying situation,” he said
Another boat owner, who identified himself as Roypen Mootain, said he owns thirteen boats and has been plying the Suriname route for twenty-seven years.
He stated that the issuance of the licence will not only benefit the boat owners, but it will trickle down to everyone in the fishing industry, especially the fishermen who can now look forward to better wages.