By SANCHESKA BROWN
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Government has temporarily banned permits to non-Bahamian fishermen in the Bahamas, Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell said yesterday.
While making a contribution on the Immigration Act in the House of Assembly, Mr Mitchell said the
government decided on the ban after hearing the “cries” from local fishermen.
“The run up to the campaign saw us in the islands listening to fishermen in the Bahamas complaining about unfair competition of poachers from the Dominican Republic. In the spring of this year, the previous cabinet made a decision that a delegation should go to the Dominican Republic and speak to the government in regard to this and progressive measure would be taken by the government to deal with this matter,” he said.
“Upon us coming to office this cabinet made a decision too and you heard the Prime Minister actually say it on his feet that this was a matter of priority to stop this as an adjunct of that what appears to be a use by sundry to get work permits for non nationals under one guise, but in fact they are doing something else. The decision was then made against that backdrop, and the complaint of our fisherman, to review these work permits.”
Mr Mitchell also responding to comments by Percival Roberts, the owner of Geneva Brass Seafood and Rock Lobster, who said the Government should consider repealing the law that only allows Bahamians to fish in this country.
“There was a public statement made by the owner of a fishing operation called Geneva Brass and he decried a decision made by the Department of Immigration in regards to the grant and refusal of work permits for Dominican mechanics and engineers,” he said.
“The owner of the operation complained and then came to see me. I indicated to him that I was constrained. The immigration board was in fact the cabinet and this decision was made at a cabinet level and so, as the minister, I had no authority to overturn that.
“He said he cannot depend on Bahamians to work on the vessel and for his business to succeed. In fact he indicated that as a result of the refusal, Bahamians were hired to take his vessel and they ran the vessel aground. I just want to say to the fishing community that the government understands and heard quite clearly and is taking all the steps it can to address their issues, but we are constrained by the directions of the cabinet that no work permits are to be issued in these circumstances to individuals on these fishing vessels and that will remain the situation until we are otherwise directed.”
Last month Minister of Agriculture, Marine Resources V. Alfred Gray told fishermen that the Government has agreed to purchase 11 new vessels for the Royal Bahamas Defence Force to be able to better police Bahamian waters.
Speaking at a meeting with the fishermen at Pilgrim Baptist Temple, Minister Gray explained that the RBDF only has four boats that are operational, making it difficult for them to be on the lookout for poachers. “So most of the problems we are having right now are a result of the Defence Force not having the sufficient number of vessels it needs to police the Bahamian waters,” he said.
He noted that most of the foreign nationals poaching in the Bahamas are from the Dominican Republic.
The Minister also warned the fishermen not to approach Dominican Republic boats to get involved in a confrontation. Normally when they come out to sea like that, they are armed and possibly dangerous, because they are going out looking for fish and they do not intend for anybody to stop them, he said. Instead, he advised local fishermen to use caution and contact RBDF officers as soon as they are able to pass on the information.
Minister Gray also said that some Bahamian fishermen are guilty of breaking the law as well when they ask for a permit to hire a Dominican Republic national to work as a boat captain, but then turn around and have him diving instead.
He urged Bahamian fishermen not to help foreign nationals by breaking the law. Minister Gray also told the fishermen that they should register with the Government so that they can receive exemptions and other benefits offered by the Government.