Earlier today, representatives of the Guyana Association of Trawler Owners (GATO) met with Agriculture Minister, Zulfikar Mustapha to discuss a number of issues faced in the sector.
During the virtual engagement, President of the GATO, Reubenu Charles, commended the Government for the progress made thus far in terms of the ongoing ban on export of catfish to the US.
“I’m happy to hear that you are aggressively dealing with the catfish issue. It doesn’t directly affect the trawler association but we are concerned because we are all involved in fisheries and we would like the entire industry to be on a levelled footing,” Mr. Charles said.
The association which was formed in 1999, has a mandate to advocate for the seabob trawlers in Guyana.
Representative of Noble House Seafood, Leslie Romalo indicated that his company, like others, experiences issues with processing due to high production costs.
“My big concern is that it is still very hard to compete with other nations when we are processing. For instance, if you look at the electricity cost, because Noble House has a sister company in Suriname, the electricity rate in Suriname is about US 7cents per kw/h while in Guyana, it is still US 27cents per kw/h so you can see that big disparity immediately. It is actually more economical to process in a place like Suriname rather than in a place like Guyana and we are competing on the same market with the same product. We are hoping that these issues can be addressed to try and make the industry in Guyana a little more viable,” Mr. Romalo said.
Agriculture Minister, Zulfikar Mustapha said that many of the issues raised have already been addressed in the emergency budget.
“I’ll be writing to the Association, outlining some of the measures we have put in place. Immediately after the Budget was passed, Government presented a number of bills to the National Assembly to reverse some of the harsh measures put in place when we left office in 2015. Some of the measures like Value Added Tax (VAT) on exports, increases in licensing fees, duty free concessions and zero rated items – we were able to restore them to the 2014, early 2015 rates. The same benefits that the trawler association enjoyed prior to our departure from Government will be restored,” Minister Mustapha said.
Minister Mustapha further stated that it is the aim of the Government to reduce the cost of power. He added that Government is also looking to invest in hydro-power once again.
Mr. Romalo also touched on the issue of discharge water as a result of the current oil exploration activities offshore.
“I’ve always felt, from what I read, that the wells where we were drilling were too far away to disturb the seabob ground. Of recent, while reading the articles, I’ve been seeing that there is a lot of discharge water coming out of this operation. I’m beginning to feel, somewhere along the line, that this discharge water might be affecting the larva because the catches in Suriname continue to remain relatively stable, while Guyana’s is almost diminished,” Mr. Romalo said.
Responding to those concerns, Minister Mustapha said that his Ministry is willing to work with the Association to have studies done to address these issues.
“We have to get specialists to carry out studies on these issues. I will be working with the Ministry of Natural Resources so that we can flag these concerns and further engage your Association to definitively say how these oil and gas operations are affecting the population of this particular species. I will be putting measures in place to immediately address that and rest assured, the Ministry of Agriculture will continue to support this crucial industry. We have to look at it from a scientific perspective. Let us work together; conduct a study to look at other areas around the world to see the outcome in those sectors after they started oil production,” Minister Mustapha said.
Minister further stated that Government was able to negotiate a lot of internal changes relating to the Payara contract in terms of local content. One such change was to ensure that the company treats the water that will be released back into the ocean.
Geer Megan, Chief Executive Officer for GM Enterprise Inc., said that it is in the best interest of the players in the seabob industry to explore diversification.
“I always believe in research and following trends, and based on those trends I make business decisions. I am not in the seabob industry alone. Based on what my other colleagues would have mentioned, I probably would’ve seen that coming. Bit by bit my company would’ve been doing a bit of diversification. Exploring diversification; its something that most of us in the industry might have to do. Many business decisions need to be made by all the players in the industry. Over the years we have not been seeing any increase, but rather a decrease and its something my colleagues might have to look into in the future,” Mr. Megan said.
The subject Minister also took the opportunity to advise the Association to have discussions in order to have a common position on certain issues.
“For example, issues like the issuing of licenses to foreign vessels in Guyana. There are some persons saying that they are willing to have foreign vessels operating in Guyana. While the Government is putting a restriction on the numbers, the Association should advise us based on a common position, what the restrictions should entail as it pertains to the numbers,” Minister said.