There is a call for release of FAO’s report on oil production and fishing as relates to the effects of oil operations on fish catch. I am a committed supporter of the fisher folks (not just fishermen but also those whose lives are tied to fishing — managers, vendors, stalls, fish shops, fish cleaners, etc.) that number in the thousands. It has not been scientifically demonstrated (proven) that oil drilling affect fishing. Could national flooding be a decisive factor in declining catch? Flood waters also scare away fish.
I am of the view that fisherfolks must (should or ought to) be compensated if it is proven that oil operations have impacted on fish catch and by extension their livelihoods. I wrote several articles on this subject.
As someone with a degree in the natural science, I am of the informed position that claims (especially related to the environment, ocean habitat, fish, etc.) must be scientifically proven. It was not established that oil drilling and other operations scare away fish and other sea life. I had called for an independent government study on the issue. I applaud the Minister, Zulfikar Mustapha, for responding positively. I believe the Minister, who the public in polls say is the most visible and active Minister on the ground, is sympathetic with fisherfolks and the working class in general and would do the right and needful thing to assist them.
The Minister is reported to have said that a FAO study was conducted. I have not seen the report. But I am sure the Minister in due course will address the media on the issue and release the report.
As a scientist in my university studies, without fear of being contradicted, fishing would be severely impacted in the vicinity of oil drilling and other operations. When affected, fish move to different breeding ground. Oil operations are some 150 miles off coast from Guyana and would affect breeding ground in that area. I do not think too many of our fishing boats trek out that far for their catch; nevertheless only a scientific study can provide a professional and facts based explanation for declining catch over the last several years. What I do know, that is a fact, is that Guyana was (has been) inundated with unusually heavy unprecedented rainfall and flood waters in recent years. I was caught in several of those floods in Guyana and in Trinidad covered in deep water. Fresh water (from floods and run off waterways) would impact on sea life. Most sea life (sea bob shrimping and popular fish normally found close to the coast of Guyana) cannot survive in fresh water or sea water mixed with fresh water. The mixing of water along the coast would drive away fish, similar to the noise of oil drilling operations. There has been declining catch in most parts of the globe. Areas that experienced flooding also experienced lower catch than usual. Brazil, Venezuela, Mexico, US South coast, etc. that experienced massive flood waters that ran off into the ocean also experienced lower catch. I do not know if Trinidad and Tobago was also affected by lower catch from flood waters although there were complaints there also. Trinidad fishermen are also involved in deep sea fishing. The mentioned countries have had oil operations for decades. There were no reported impacts on fish catch except in recent years when flooding seemed to be perennial.
Guyana has not been affected by national flooding this year and fishing companies have reported increased catch over last year.
Some pertinent questions to ask as related to Guyana are: Have fresh water affected fish life in the Atlantic off Guyana coast? Is it a factor on the low catch? Have oil operations also impacted on fishing? The report of the study is early awaited.
By Vishnu Bisram