Dark clouds on horizon for Guyana's flourishing seafood sector

Published on
July 19, 2018

Guyana, long the poor cousin of the Caribbean region, with a human development index only slightly better than Haiti's, is turning a new chapter in its economic fortunes, and fisheries are playing a significant role.

Though the recent discovery of significant oil and gas deposits in Guyana's waters has attracted much international press, less notice has been taken of Guyana's burgeoning seafood sector, which development agencies have credited with helping to spur growth of Guyana's GDP and exports over the past 10 years.

A recent joint report by the Food and Agriculture Organization and the Inter-American Institute for Cooperation on Agriculture shows the country's fisheries capture production was 47,000 metric tons in 2014. Guyana's Bureau of Statistics figures show  that between January and March 2018, Guyana's shrimp and prawn exports were valued at just under USD 29 million (EUR 24.8 million), while its fish and byproduct exports for the same period were valued at just under USD 9 million (EUR 7.7 million). The bureau indicated that shrimp and prawn exports were the third-largest contributors to Guyana's GDP, second only to gold and bauxite, the country's traditional foreign revenue earners.

“The fishing industry is one of the most important contributing sectors to Guyana’s revenue as the country exports more than 60 percent of its catch. This industry is responsible for the livelihood of approximately 15,000 persons and their families,” The Guyana Ministry of Agriculture said in a statement on its website. Further, the FAO-IICA Outlook notes that Guyanese consume 35 kilograms of fish per capita annually, nearly three times the amount recommended by international health organizations.

Commenting on the contribution Guyana’s fisheries development is having on its economy, the joint FAO-IICA 2017/18 report “Outlook for Agriculture and Rural Development in the Americas” cites Guyana as one of an important group of countries “that shows sustained growth in the volume of production and in real agricultural income over a 10-year period.” The report includes fisheries production in this growth, adding, “In Guyana, the country's good performance was due to increases in rice and fisheries production.” Though it noted, Guyana was one of three countries in which agricultural sector growth rates were lower in 2016 than they were in 2015.

While declining to answer questions in detail regarding the sector's growth, Guyana Trawlers Association and Seafood Processors president, Reuben Charles told SeafoodSource via email his organization has 16 members, representing the entirety of the industrial shrimp trawl fisheries of Guyana. Its members own all five shrimp processing plants in Guyana and all the trawlers – 87 catching the seabob (Xiphopenaeus kroyeri) and 18 catching prawns (Penaeus species).

However, recent developments suggest there are ominous signs ahead for the country's seafood sector that may hamstring its contribution to Guyana's economic growth. BEV Processors Inc., one of the country's leading seafood processors, has announced that it is closing its doors in July 2018. BEV began exporting fish and shrimp products from Guyana 30 years ago, and was the first company in Guyana, either local or foreign, to export fish in commercial quantities back in the 1980s.

BEV Processors Managing Director Philip Bruce Vieira told SeafoodSource that BEV processes approximately 10 million pounds (4,536 MT) of shrimp per year and has a staff of 370. Its main export market has been the U.S. However, “the demand and pricing for the shrimp we produce have been reduced and the last time we had this situation, we lost a lot of money and at my age, I prefer not to go down that road again,” he said via email.

Vieira denies that his business' closure could be attributed to lack of government concessions and support, as widely reported in the media. He said the government had, in fact, been generous to the trawler industry. He told SeafoodSource the following concessions had been given: No excise tax on diesel; no duty on imported equipment, spares and supplies; no VAT on imported equipment, spares and supplies; and eligibility for an export allowance which reduces taxable income.

Rather, Vieira points to demand from his customers in the United States for products that have sustainability credentials such as Marine Stewardship Council certification.

“If we are not MSC-certified by the end of 2019, we will lose a lot of our U.S.A. customers,” Vieira told SeafoodSource.

BEV has been exporting to the U.S. continuously for 34 years and to Europe, Panama, and the Caribbean for many years “earning hundreds of millions of U.S. dollars over the years,” Vieira said.

Veira told the Stabroek News in June that he regrets having to shutter his business, but that Guyana will have trouble meeting the changing requirements of international markets.

Photo courtesy of Guyana Seabob Fishery

Reporting from the Caribbean

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