Fearing that a fleet of six Chinese mega fishing boats including two processing mother vessels would quickly deplete fishing grounds off Suriname, authorities there have asked the captains of the group to leave the Caribbean trade bloc nation as soon as possible after rejecting their applications for permits to work in the country.
The appearance of the vessels in local ports in recent weeks had triggered alarm bells among the country’s fishing community and calls from lawmakers for their applications to be rejected forthwith.
Minister of Fisheries, Lekhram Soerdjan said the 100-foot vessels did not meet local regulations so authorities had no choice but to turn them down and ask them to leave local waters.
The matter had caused so much tension that it reached the 51-member national assembly where lawmakers were almost unanimous in their rejection of their applications in a country where officials already complain about the less than acceptable ability of enforcement agencies to properly monitor activities off Surinamese waters.
In 2015, representatives from a company calling itself Fuzhou Hongdong Pelagic Fishery had applied to neighboring Guyana for permits for 35, 120-foot trawlers and drift netters to work in Guyanese waters but the umbrella seafood and processors association railed against the granting of any work permits as drift netters clean up fishing grounds and leave little or nothing for local vessels. Then Minister of Fisheries, Leslie Ramsammy and other officials sat on the applications resisting pressure from former President Bharrat Jagdeo and others who were lobbying for a place in the sun for the Chinese. It is unclear if these boats are linked to the same company.
This was so because the same government had placed restrictions on the number of registered local vessels to protect the fish and shrimping stock but was still angling to allow these mega Chinese vessels to operate in Guyana’s economic zone.
In protesting against the Chinese vessels, meanwhile, Surinamese fishermen pointed to regulations limiting engine horsepower of all boats to 500. The Chinese were listed at around 3,500 hp, nearly seven times more powerful and greater than the allowable limit. Local rules mandate that all vessels bring their catch ashore for processing which must be done by Surinamese. All processing are done on the mother ships so authorities fear they may never see the boats again or be able to monitor what they catch and process legally. The fisheries sector nets about $40 million annually.
“The Chinese ships do not land after their catch but process and move it directly to a mother ship. A well-known system in the large fishing industries,” said Udo Karg, the head of the Surinamese seafood association. “The Chinese trawlers have to leave because they do not meet the licensing requirements of Suriname.”
Prahalad Sewdien, the Farmers Federation president noted that “the Chinese ships do not even land after their catch but process and move it directly to a mother ship. A well-known system in the large fishing industries. It is a narrow strip where there is work, there is no room for more fishermen.”
Local media quote officials as saying that there were already 450 active permits issued in 2018. Any additional ones would harm the environment and deplete fishing grounds.
Authorities around the world are complaining about a virtual war by Chinese fishing companies as Beijing has been pushing governments to sign legally binding port state measures agreements. So far several CARICOM countries including Barbados, Dominica, Guyana, St. Kitts have signed bilateral agreements with China to cover seafood activity.