Fishing was once a lucrative business for our local fishermen. But no more. Foreigners — mainly from the Dominican Republic with a handful of Americans thrown in — are raiding the fishermen’s traps, both in and out of season. Bahamian fishermen are pleading for help. However, there is no help in sight.
So intent are they on capturing Haitian boat people that the Defence Force has no time to deal with illegal poachers. And so the fishermen suffer. Not only do they suffer, but as a result they are tempted to take the law into their own hands.
In October last year, a delegation, headed by Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell, met in the Dominican Republic with Dominican officials specifically on the issue of their citizens fishing illegally in our waters.
On his return to Nassau, Mr Mitchell said that the Bahamas government believed that it had “an obligation to ensure that we used diplomacy as the first line of defence.” He said that Dominican Republic President Denilo Medina had pledged that the Bahamas’ poaching problems would be addressed.
President Medina, said Mr Mitchell, “gave specific instructions to the naval forces in the Dominican Republic to begin a series of measures which the navy has predicted will result in a drastic decline in poaching in Bahamian waters.” Mr Mitchell was “cautiously optimistic therefore that we will see some improvement in this area.”
Not so, said Bahamian fishermen this week. Two months short of a year after the Dominican talks our fishermen claim that the situation is getting worse.
“Every meeting is the same thing – talk, talk, talk,” said one fisherman this week. “This is the only industry Bahamians own, but the government is not protecting it. I saw poachers in April, in May, in June and I heard them on the radio. You know how bad it feels when the season closes for you and they out there fishing?”
When he returned last October from the “diplomatic” talks with the Dominicans, Mr Mitchell said that a $200 million investment would have to be made to better equip the Defence Force to patrol our borders. Also Minister V Alfred Gray, who was a part of last year’s delegation, said they would “look for” the Attorney General to amend the Fisheries Act to increase the penalties for poaching from $5,000 to $250,000 and 25 years in prison.
Not only did the Dominican government pledge to assist in upholding our laws, but they promised to also punish their fishermen for their transgressions.
When The Tribune reporter asked Mr Mitchell this week to comment on the fishermen’s complaints, he said, “I would think in terms of enforcement, the issue is really resources. What happened is the agreement between the Dominican Republic and ourselves is largely finished; one or two things the lawyers have to do. More....