May 12, 2021
On land, Mario Carey is known as the real estate guru who can make a deal with a telephone call and a handshake.
In the water, he’s facing a far tougher battle, an uphill slog to get everyone onboard to stop the illegal harvesting of Bahamian conch, fish and crawfish.
“I’ve been diving for more than 35 years and two weeks ago I went from Yellow Banks (north Exuma) to Sayle Rock (Eleuthera) without seeing a single grouper, hog fish, Margaret fish, not a conch, nothing,” he said. “Yes, dolphin, or mahi-mahi were running, but the fish that feed on coral – not a one in six hours in the water. It was the first time in my life that ever happened and it was a helluva wake-up call.”
Not that Carey needed another wake-up. He’s been meeting with officials, helping to raise funds and awareness to add more monitoring tools to the arsenal that authorities have to spot and arrest those fishing illegally.
This week, he lauded a South Florida court after a judge fined 57-year-old Henry Danzig $200,000 for an illegal catch of nearly 170 fish caught off the reefs near Cay Sal Bank. The total catch weighed more than 500 lbs. Danzig and four others were on a 239-foot Contender called bodacious when they were spotted and stopped re-entering US waters in the Florida Keys where Danzig operated a restaurant and was known as a good neighbour who always shared his catch with whoever wanted fish.
“He paid a price, having to sell his boat to buy the Royal Bahamas Defence Force a new 30-foot Contender,” said Carey. “It won’t bring back the 500+ lbs of fish that Danzig took when he broke the Lacey Act, banning trafficking in illegal fish and wildlife, but I hope it sets an example.”
Carey wants the law to go further.
“We need to get tough and seize the vessels these criminals are using to catch fish from Bahamian waters and take them back to the US to sell. Some of these boats come over here on the pretense of a three-day sports fishing trip, but all they are is what they call in the trade ‘meat boats.’ They come for the slaughter and the money they will reap from it when they return to Florida and in some cases, they even get the charter fee. It has to stop.”
The legal limit for foreign vessels is a 20-lb bag per person per day, and the vessel must have a recreational fishing license.
He cites past fines that he says are so minor, the criminals – local and foreign – pay them off and are right back in the water, lines overboard and respect for the marine environment non-existent.
“I look at three examples,” says Carey. “September 2019, a Bahamian on a vessel called Sweet Dreams was fined $10,000 for using an air compressor, again fishing the Cay Sal Banks where he and a crew of 33 took $22,000 worth of fish. A year later, more than 80 Dominican poachers were fined $20,000 apiece or prison time. You have to go all the way back to 1996, 25 years ago, to find a really hefty fine. That boat, Sea Legs IV, was caught with $70,000 worth of fish which would be probably triple that now. They faced a fine of up to $250,000 and up to five years in prison.”
Carey credits the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources, the RBDF, organizations like BREEF, Bahamas National Trust, The Nature Conservancy, Save The Bays and Waterkeepers with driving up awareness.
“I think we have come a long way in terms of understanding how threatened our fish and conch stock is,” he said. “Now, all we have to do is get serious about enforcement. These people who illegally overfish for commercial gain in our country need to pay the price just like other criminals do, drug smugglers and human traffickers, and they need to have their vessels seized and spend time behind bars. The message will spread.”