Fish and their habitats are impacted by climate change. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) warmer temperatures will have an impact on the abundance, movement patterns, and mortality rates of wild fish stocks, as well as which species can be farmed in specific places.
People who depend on fisheries and aquaculture, from workers to coastal communities and consumers, will be impacted socially and economically by these climate effects. Various aspects such as inadequate reporting, overfishing, and illegality pose challenges to Suriname’s fishing industry, but when it comes to climate change, the impact is difficult to determine.
Zojindra Arjune, deputy director of Fisheries Management, says there has been a decline in the number of fish catches across the board. According to the Fisheries Management Plan (VMP) 2021-2025, fish landings increased sharply from 8,871 to 39,993 tons between 2008 and 2017 but fell sharply again in 2018 and 2019 to around 24,000 tons in 2019.
This decrease is large as a result of a lack of data in recorded landings of the artisanal fleet.
This could also be explained looking into underreporting of the fish landings outside of Suriname. It is difficult for the Fisheries sub-directorate of the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Husbandry and Fisheries (LVV) to determine whether this is also due to climate change. Arjune says that no research has been done on this in Suriname.
“Research is expensive and you need to have the facilities to do research. The data on the composition of fish species off the coast date from the 1980s,” he said, adding that “no survey has been done since then.”
The minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Parmanand Sewdien said on October 4, 2022, during a webinar of the networking organization, KennisKring, under the theme ‘Fish and Fishing Licenses.’ that climate change was the cause of the decrease in catches in the sea bob shrimp fishery.
According to Arjune, an explanation is being sought in climate change, because catches have been fairly stable in the past 15 to 20 years, but have decreased noticeably in the past two years. This while the fishing efforts decreased, so there is no question of overfishing.
“Catches have fallen remarkably low. That is why the explanation is sought in the direction of climate change,” says Arjune.
Udo Karg, chairman of the Suriname Seafood Association (SSA), says that the organization has been pushing for a biomass study for some time. This research will take 2 to 2.5 years and will cost approximately between US$ 2 and 3 million. The organization’s members contribute a total of approximately US$1 million in fishing license fees to the state each year. It has been requested that these resources be used for research into the consequences of rising sea temperatures for fisheries.
According to Karg, a large part of the declining fish catches is now attributed to illegal fishing activities from Guyana and hardly anything is being done about it.
The SSA’s biggest concern is that everything will eventually end. Karg says that Suriname is doing everything it can to make fisheries a more dependent resource. According to him, there are all kinds of rules that most Surinamese fishermen adhere to, but many of these rules are still not taken seriously.
“Since we react feebly on these violations, there is a huge concern about continuity,” says Karg.
Akash Sital belongs to the second generation of fishermen who took over the business from his parents. He works in the Surinamese Coastal Fisheries (SK) where the catches are made with open boats.
These include more Bang Bang (Cynoscion acoupa), Kandratiki (Cynoscion virenscens), Koepila (Arius proops), and Tarpon. Sital says he deals with the effects of climate change daily.
“Due to the sea level rise, we’ve seen damage to the breeding grounds of the fish. The fish therefore move away in search of other breeding grounds,” says Sital.
Making a comparison, he stated that in the 1980s, the vessels were 12 meters with a small engine, because the water was not so turbulent. Now, with more turbulent waters, larger vessels have to be purchased to ensure the safety of the workers.
Sital says that in the 1980s to early 2000s a vessel would spend about 6 to 8 days at sea catching 100-200 bang bangs and some kandra, koepila, and tarpoen as bycatch.
But now, they stay at sea for 15-21 days and sometimes, with disappointing results.
“We are talking about a cost of SRD 60,000 to SRD 70,000 that you cannot cover,” Sital shared
It is worth mentioning that Minister Sewdien also indicated in the October edition of KennisKring that there are signs of overfishing within the SK fishery. Sital is also aware of this. “When my father started it we had quite a fleet of vessels, but now the fleet has been reduced by more than half. We had to identify other sources of income. Living off fishing is hard. Back then it was possible. Now it’s more of a hobby. There is no option for expansion (of fisheries).”
Sital would like the government to support the sector. “We don’t get any import duties. We pay the hard retail price. 99.9% of entrepreneurs in the fishing industry are in debt,” says Sital.
According to Arjune, the VMP is a precautionary measure after a decrease in catches has been noticed. The sea fishing sector is of great socio-economic importance to Suriname. Arjune indicates that the national household will come under pressure due to reduced income. A more significant issue is if people are forced to leave the sector because they no longer earn enough.
“What are they going to do? Where are they going to find employment?”.
The ministry is already looking at alternatives and is trying to get fishermen to switch to aquaculture through training. According to Arjune, it’s not easy to get people who used to go out to sea to now watch fish grow. A separate policy is being pursued for aquaculture in which people who want to switch to aquaculture will be encouraged.
“A big problem with aquaculture is the feeding component. Feed is expensive. In certain areas, cultivation is carried out on a very large scale, which will reduce the cost price. We are small and unable to achieve these economies of scale,” he says.
Aquaculture is an option for SSA. Some of the members of SSA are already engaged in aquaculture, but to practice this on a large scale for export is an expensive investment. Aquaculture for farmed shrimp already comes at an investment of between US$ 20 and 30 million.
Both education and accessibility to capital to carry our aquaculture play a role in the successful transition.
“You cannot go to any bank in Suriname to borrow those large sums of money. So you can’t do aquaculture on a commercial level either,” says Karg.
Sital believes that aquaculture can be an option for the Surinamese fishers because it gives them security. When a vessel goes to sea you don’t know what it will come with.
“With aquaculture, you know what you can do to improve your quality. The question is to what extent the government is prepared to invest in this and to train the entrepreneurs and offer them the opportunity to do so”.
This story was published with the support of Climate Tracker and The Cropper Foundation’s Caribbean Citizen Climate Journalism Fellowship