By Lamech Johhnson
Forty-three Dominican poachers, who offered no explanation or remorse when pleading guilty to six poaching related charges, admitted they could not pay their collective $129,000 fine yesterday.
Chief Magistrate Joyanne Ferguson-Pratt, before fining the men and informing them of their alternative punishment of eight months jail time at Her Majesty’s Prison, had given them an opportunity to make a plea in mitigation.
All men chorused “No! no! no!” and when individually called on to explain themselves and their actions on February 8, they declined to do so.
“The waters of the Bahamas have been determined to be very rich,” the magistrate began in her remarks, adding that “they’ve also been determined to be necessary for the livelihood of many Bahamians.”
“It is unacceptable that you would enter into our waters and seek to contravene the law. And it appears that for some of you, this has not been your first time. In fact, two of the mentioned have been engaged in this for decades.”
“It (poaching) can never be encouraged. The waters of the Bahamas have been used by persons engaged in sports fishing and for livelihoods. The court cannot be seen to be condoning this action (poaching.)”
After fining each man $500 for each of the six charges they faced, she urged them not to repeat their past crimes.
“Please, I urge you,” she said, “do not come into our waters and rape our waters of the rich fisheries. If you do so, nothing will be left for our children and their children.”
In the nearly two-hour long arraignment in Magistrate’s Court no. 9, assisted by a Spanish translator, the 43 men charged with illegally fishing in Bahamian waters off Andros pleaded guilty to the following charges: engaging in foreign fishing in the exclusive fishing zone of the Bahamas, possession of prohibited apparatus, possession of fresh Nassau Grouper, possession of Nassau Grouper weighing less than three pounds each, possession of clipped (egg-bearing) crawfish, and possession of crawfish measuring less than three and one quarter inches.
On Saturday, February 8, during a routine patrol, HMBS Nassau received information about four Dominican fishing vessels on the Great Bahama Bank. The Defence Force boat was directed to proceed to the area.
Around 10 o’clock that evening in the area of the Guinchos Cays, HMBS Nassau arrested a 70 ft Dominican fishing vessel with about 43 persons on board. The other three fishing boats fled in the direction of Cuba.
The fishing boat “Triton” was intercepted about 75 nautical miles south of Andros with an undetermined amount of fish on board.
The vessel and occupants were detained by Defence Force marines and brought to New Providence to be handed over to the appropriate authorities for further processing.
The vessels and equipment used in the offences were ordered to be handed over to the Department of Fisheries to deal with as they saw fit.
“If anyone is to get the benefit of it, the Bahamians will. Not those who have come into our waters and break the law,” said the magistrate.
The only concession granted to the 43 Dominicans was that their personal belongings, such as jewellery and accessories, be returned to them.
They were ordered to be deported following the payment or completion of sentence, whichever comes first.