August 17, 2018
The Bahamas National Trust joins Bahamian fishermen who have expressed satisfaction with a recent landmark ruling by magistrate Cara Turnquest when she levied massive fines on recently convicted foreign poachers caught fishing illegally in Bahamian Waters.
The Bahamas National Trust as the manager of the national parks is a strong advocate of sustainable fishery practices. The Trust declared the ECLSP as the first “ no take “ marine reserve in 1986. Part of ensuring that we will have fish for the future is protecting our territorial waters from illegal fishing.
Previously pleading “not guilty”, the poachers, all from the Dominican Republic, changed their pleas to “guilty” in the hopes that they would get a more lenient sentence. However, Magistrate Turnquest decided to fine each poacher $53,000. An offender who had a previous conviction was fined $100,000, which brought the group’s total fines to $2,350,000. This is a landmark win for fisheries resources and the BNT congratulates the RBDF and the judiciary for bringing the case to court and supporting strong enforcement of the fisheries regulations.
Since June there have been a number of Dominican Republic Fishing vessels apprehended by the RBDF for fishing illegally in Bahamian waters. The fishermen have been charged with possession of crawfish caught during the closed season, prohibited apparatus, undersized grouper, and several other violations of Bahamian Fishery Regulations. Those that pled not guilty have been remanded to custody until their trials.
Illegal foreign fishing in Bahamian waters has been a concern for many years. Under a major public funding initiative, termed the Sandy Bottom Project, the government of The Bahamas invested two hundred and fifty million dollars in the Royal Bahamas Defence Force. Though the Sandy Bottom project, nine new vessels were acquired as part of a three-part modernization of major RBDF assets. This also facilitated major improvements to port facilities and development of bases at Coral Harbour in New Providence, Matthew Town, Inagua Island, and Gunpoint, Ragged Island.
A report produced for the Bahamas Lobster Fisheries Improvement project by Dr. Kathleen Sullivan- Sealey of the University of Miami, confirmed that poaching by commercial fishermen from the Dominican Republic is the greatest single threat to Bahamian seafood resources. “The implications in terms of lost jobs, lost revenue to the government, and lost fisheries resources is in the tens of millions of dollars” the report warned. “This is a serious threat to national security and economic growth.
Fisherman have long bemoaned the unabated poaching they have personally encountered especially throughout the Southern Bahamas. They report seeing the poachers in areas like the Cay Sal Bank and chasing them off, only to have them return the minute they leave. Many fishermen feel defeated and defenceless against the unchecked foreign onslaught against our natural resources.
“In our recent discussions with Bahamian fishermen with regards to new MPAs, they expressed that the penalties these poachers received, were not sufficient to deter them. These very significant fines send a clear message that The Bahamas is taking this issue of poaching very seriously.” Said Eric Carey, BNT Executive Director.
BNT applauds the RBDF for their valiant efforts and feels confident that with the new assets, and their plans to utilize other tools such as drones, the dedicated and committed men and women of the RBDF will bring this scourge of poaching under control.
In lauding the government’s intent to apply stiffer penalties for poaching, BNT President Janet Johnson noted “ We support the recent statement by the Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Hon. Michael Pintard, that government intends to send a strong message to poachers by increasing penalties including stiffer fines and imprisonment.” Johnson added her agreement with the Minister’s further statement that penalties need to be dramatic enough to send a message to serve as a disincentive for them taking a risk.