Fish resources warning By Chamanlall Naipaul
Guyana Chronicle
November 8, 2006

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OFFICIALS of the fishing industry have underscored the importance of the sustainable management of resources which they say are not infinite and if not managed properly could lead to the destruction of many aquatic species and eco-systems.

This pitch was made yesterday when representatives of the local fisheries sector met at Hotel Tower in Georgetown in a final national consultation on the Draft Fisheries Management Plan for Guyana.

The Fisheries Management Plan (FMP) notes the need to manage fisheries resources in a sustainable manner so as to protect and preserve these for future generations.

The FMP provides information on fisheries policy, guiding principles, goals and the legal and institutional framework for the development and management of the sector.

Agriculture Minister, Mr. Robert Persaud, in an address to the participants at the consultation, emphasised the significant role of the fisheries sector in providing employment, food security and foreign exchange through export.

He reiterated the commitment of the government to this sector and in this regard noted that it grants duty free concessions on fishing vessels and engines and fuel in the face of rising world fuel prices.

He observed that already because of the slowdown of the prawns industry, the number of sea bob trawlers in operation has increased from 15 to nearly 100 and calls are being made to have the closed fishing periods for trawlers revised.

Persaud said experts have predicted that if the present rate of fishing continues, more fish species will vanish, leading to the collapse of many eco-systems, and it is imperative to implement a plan to ensure sustainable management of this crucial resource.

This, he said, needs an aggressive strategy and recalled that in this regard new legislation was passed in 2002 on surveillance and monitoring systems.

Increasing emphasis is also being placed on aquaculture and integrating rice and fish cultivation, Persaud observed, pointing out that the establishment of the Mon Repos Demonstration Fish Station, East Coast Demerara, for training and providing technical assistance to farmers, represents a major step in this direction. Another step, he said, was the recent formation of the National Aquaculture Association of Guyana (NAAG).

The minister noted, too, that under the Arapaima Management Plan, Amerindians will be taking the initiative to implement sustainable fishing practices.

He also disclosed that the fisheries sector is being devolved into a semi-autonomous one to improve its effectiveness and efficiency. However, one persisting problem is a shortage of human resources in this area of expertise, he noted.

Nevertheless, Persaud said, the government is moving to address this difficulty by seeking help from the Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) and recruiting personnel from the Guyanese diaspora.

The minister also alluded to several burning issues facing the fisheries sector which have to be resolved to move the industry forward. These include piracy, lack of financing, poor management of fishery cooperatives, and quality of exports, he said.

Mr. Terence Philips of the Caribbean Regional Fishing Mechanism (CRFM), said that among Caribbean Community/Cariforum countries, some 182,000 people depend directly or indirectly on fishing for a livelihood.

The sector also has a significant impact on the regional economy as some 195,000 tonnes of fish products are exported annually, earning more than US$150M, he said.

Philips said it is therefore crucial that sustainable strategies be implemented as shrimp, lobster and snapper are already being over-exploited and this could have serious socio-economic implications.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture, Dr Dindyal Permaul, pointed out that Guyana’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) is abut 137,000 square kilometres, representing about 64% of land mass, and it has one of the highest consumption of fish per capita.

The FMP notes that the fishery sector is a significant net contributor to the revenue of the government, through consumption taxes on imported fuel and licence fees.

Estimated per capita annual consumption of fish, according to the FMP, rose from nine kilogrammes to 27 kilogrammes between 1980 and 1988, 45 kilogrammes in 1991 and 58.7 kilogrammes in 1999.

The fisheries harvesting sector alone contributes 1.59% of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and it is estimated that some 10,500 persons are involved in fishery and related activities, the FMP says.