November 28, 2012
Former Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Pierre Dupuch has urged government ministries to work together to stop illegal fishing.
Mr Dupuch said the problem of foreign poachers is getting worse and warned that if it is not addressed soon, “our tranquil waters in the southern fishing grounds will soon be red with blood”. The longtime FNM MP said nowadays, fishing laws seem to be made only for Bahamians, while Dominicans are allowed to fish this nation’s sovereign waters “365 days a year”. He said: “There is a crawfish season in the Bahamas. The Dominicans seem to think the season is open all year round, and that it starts on January 1 and ends January 1 of the following year.
“There is much play on the fact that there is a grouper season, but this law also seems to apply only to Bahamians, as the Dominicans fish for grouper all year, process them in the Dominican Republic and then sell them back to the Bahamas.” Mr Dupuch noted that the current Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries, V Alfred Gray, has threatened foreign poachers with long prison terms, while Prime Minister Christie met with his Dominican counterpart. But he said this is not enough in the face of such a serious problem and called on the whole Cabinet to support Mr Gray. “It must be a multifaceted operation that affects a number of ministries,” Mr Dupuch said.
He identified seven major issues that contribute to the problem:
• The marrying game
Dominican fishermen marry Bahamian women simply for a spousal permit, then proceed to fish within the law.
Mr Dupuch suggested that the Minister of Immigration should have the law changed so that a person must live with a Bahamian spouse for at least six months before being allowed to work in certain industries, including fishing.
• Boat engineers
Mr Dupuch said there can be up 18 people registered as “engineers” on one fishing boat, all of whom are outfitted with wet suits and all the apparatus divers use.
He said the Minister of Immigration should stipulate that if an engineer is needed on a boat, only one permit, with the boat’s name on it, should be issued. All others found on the boat with engineer permits should thereafter be “arrested and sent to prison or made to pay a very large fine,” he said.
Mr Dupuch noted claims that Defence Force officers routinely “shake down” Bahamian boats, but ignore foreign fishermen. He said to remedy this, with the co-operation of the Minister of National Security all Defence Force boats should be equipped with tracking devices that record all their movements. Mr Dupuch said every time a boat is boarded, the name of the boat should be recorded, as well as the reason for the search and what was found.
Mr Dupuch said all foreigner fishermen have to do in the Bahamas is find a “well-placed prostitute” – especially if he is a former politician – in order to operate without interference. He said these “fronters” put the fishing boat in their own name, get it licenced, get spousal permits for the crew, and 18 engineer’s work permits to boot. Mr Dupuch said fronting, while legal, is “an affront to Bahamian policy” and should be outlawed immediately.
• Fishing traps and condos
Mr Dupuch said thousands of these are set each year – only to be raided by others who claim since they are in the water anyone can take from them. He said: “When I was minister I was shocked to hear such statements, so I tried to convince the perpetrators that they did not have to know who owned the traps, all they had to know was that they didn’t. I must admit, that argument went on deaf ears. Some people just like slackness.”
To solve the issue, he said, the government should licence and number all traps, each licence stating that the area where it sits on the sea bed is automatically leased to the owner for one year.
• Spotting foreign boats
The Defence Force relies on the local fishermen to spot and report foreign boats, but often fails to respond.
“On one occasion, I am told, the local fishermen rounded up most of the small foreign boats, took them to the foreign mother ship and went back for the remaining small boats,” he said. “When they returned they saw the captain of the mother ship handing rifles to the crew so the Bahamian boat, which was unarmed, left. The Defence Force again, for some reason, never showed up.” Mr Dupuch said local fishermen should not be rounding up poachers as this is the job of Defence Force officers who know the fishing grounds and should anchor in strategic areas with small, fast, fully armed boats ready to interdict poachers.
According to Mr Dupuch, some say because most Bahamian fishermen are “white boys” nothing will be done about the poaching. He said: “I don’t believe it. I know Perry Christie, the Prime Minister, and his Deputy ‘Brave’ Davis. They are not like that.” Nevertheless, “if there is a hatchet, bury it” he urged the government – stressing that politicians must “get on with building this nation for all Bahamians no matter what the colour of their skin.”
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