FAO Regional Office for Latin America and the Caribbean

Through the eyes of Eric

The story of an artisanal Seabob Fisherman

Photo of Sooknanan Takchan © FAOGuyana

Sooknanan Takchand, better known as Eric, has been an artisanal seabob fisherman in Guyana for more than fifty (50) years. He started fishing at age nine (9) to support his mother and younger siblings. Whatever he caught, Eric either sold or took home for family meals.

Today, a husband and father of four, Eric forms part of Guyana’s artisanal seabob industry, which contributes to almost 2% of the country’s total seabob landings. He mostly harvests seabob (coarse shrimp) and white belly shrimp (fine shrimp) that is processed in two ways: 1) by drying and 2) by peeling to sell fresh in local markets.

“Most Guyanese utilize a lot of seafood especially Seabob. It is a daily meal for us. I can eat that all the time. My favourite is curried shrimp with dhal and rice,” Eric relates.

Guyana’s seabob industry

Guyana is the world’s largest producer of Atlantic seabob (Xiphopenaeus kroyeri), a commercially important shrimp harvested from the Atlantic Coast, which stretches along from the United States way down to Brazil.  

Both industrial trawlers and artisanal fishers harvest seabob in Guyana, but most of the industrial catch is processed into frozen, peeled shrimp to supply local and international markets.  The industrial trawlers that operate offshore harvest majority of the seabob, and function in accordance with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification, which started in 2019. The certification tool measures the industrial seabob processes to ensure sustainability in operation and quality seafood products. MSC Certification is the only scientific measuring tool for wild-capture fisheries certification and eco-labelling programme that meets best practice requirements as set out by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

Most of the industrial seabob catch is exported to North America.

As important players in the seabob value chain, both artisanal and industrial fishers are part of the FISH4ACP Project.  The FAO is the implementing partner for FISH4ACP, an initiative of the Organization of African, Caribbean, and Pacific States (OACPS). The programme aims to make selected fisheries and aquaculture value chains in Africa, the Caribbean, and the Pacific more sustainable. In Guyana, FISH4ACP focuses on enhancing productivity and competitiveness of the Atlantic seabob fisheries while helping stakeholders overcome some of the challenges faced.

Artisanal seabob

A typical day for Eric and his fellow fisherfolk starts at break of dawn when the red and white scarlet ibises and several other bird species noisily flock the fishing dock at Good Fortuin, looking for their meals. When the tide does not permit for fishing, some of the artisanal fishermen can be seen repairing their nets and boats, building new vessels or cleaning and servicing their other fishing gears.

On a usual fishing day, however, the workers equip their boats with iceboxes, fish crates, and nets in preparation for their journey to sea. 

Artisanal seabob fishermen use the Chinese seine gear that catches the whitebelly, seabob shrimp and anything else that gets into the nets. Eric explains that the Chinese Seine gear is designed to be positioned at one spot, making it work better during the spring tide, when the tide and current are favorable. The current steers the catch into the nets. When the tide recedes, the fisherfolk haul the nets aboard and collect their catch.

Environmental Impact

To ensure sustainable fishing practices, Eric and other small-scale fisherfolk only work for about 60 hours per month or in the spring tide for 10 days in every two weeks. The reason for this Eric explained: “For a couple of years now we were facing depletion of catches. We are not producing the catch we used to produce before so we are giving the sea time so that our shrimp and fish can multiply. We are trying to rest the area and doing our best to preserve the species for a better catch.”

The artisanal fishermen also believe that the Chinese Seine gear is environmental friendly because it is a stationary small-scale operation.

Social Impact

Eric conveyed that artisanal fishery allows him to provide a stable livelihood for his family and educational opportunities for his children.

He was a member of the Region 3 Fishermen Co-operative Society before the group became inactive. He now hopes that the 30-plus fisherfolk operating at Good Fortuin can form an association to get better organized and have greater impact at the national level, in addressing issues such as declining stocks, more favourable duty concessions, piracy, acquiring boat licenses, training for captain licenses and other important concerns of small-scale fisherfolk.

Economic Impact

Quantity per catch and price for seabob is challenging for fishermen and vendors when trying to find the balance to ensure profitable operations. Both vendors and fishers are key stakeholders in the value chain that depend on each other.  

According to Eric, COVID-19 had a big impact on the seabob industry.

“During this time, we relied on our savings to take care of our families because the quarantine closed down everything and prevented people from shopping. This forced us to stop fishing for a few months and to take the necessary precautions to protect our fishing gears at the landing site and at sea,” he explains.    

Eric feels that the FISH4ACP programme can help in several ways. With the information collected, the project can help artisanal fisherfolks identify the reasons for depletion in catches and find solutions. Fishers hope also that the project can provide training to help them manage their business, and assist to set up an association.

“I would like the artisanal fishery operation to be certified like the industrial fishery so that we can sell our shrimp to them for exportation,” Eric also expresses.