By Larry Smith
A Bahamian delegation returns to the Dominican Republic next week for more talks on a bilateral agreement to address illegal fishing. And the government is about to approve a $200 million investment in new patrol boats and port facilities for the Defence Force.
These were the two big take-aways from a meeting with fishermen held at the Coral Harbour Defence Force base last Friday.
Besides fishermen, wholesalers and marines, the attendees included National Security Minister Bernard Nottage, Marine Resources Director Michael Braynan, and Chet Neymour of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Ministers Fred Mitchell and Alfred Gray failed to show up.
The meeting was the result of a growing fear among fishermen that poaching is out of control, with Bahamians risking violent confrontation with Dominican fishermen whenever they go to sea.
"Our traps are stolen or destroyed every trip," said fisherman Keith Carroll, "and if we don't bring back fish we don't make any money - we can't count on a salary like you guys. We are scared to fish in some places because they will attack us. If you don't do something fast, fishermen will start coming back in body bags."
According to Minister Nottage, the Defence Force will recruit another 300 marines (bringing total manpower to 1600), activate the $10 million Gun Point base at Ragged Island, improve intelligence and communications capabilities, engage in regional cooperation, and acquire more ships and aircraft.
This is the same $200 million plan drawn up by the previous administration and discussed publicly several times last year. However, in December the prime minister back-pedalled, saying the plan might have to be put on hold due to financial constraints. But on Friday Nottage acknowledged the BDF's "serious issues with resources" and said the government was now "close to signing off" on the acquisition plan. More....