By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
The BAHAMAS Commercial Fishermans Alliance (BCFA) president, Adrian LaRoda, said yesterday that a properly-equipped Defence Force was critical to tackling the poaching issue, noting that fishermen were not pleased that the Government may delay upgrading its fleet.
Prime Minister Perry Christie recently revealed that the Ingraham government’s plans to spend $200 million on new Defence Force boats may be put on hold given current fiscal constraints.
Mr LaRoda said this news was not what Bahamian fishermen wanted to hear, given the proliferation of foreign poaching vessels in recent months and the impact illegal poaching could have on the sustainability of the Bahamian fisheries sector in the long-term.
“That is essentially a step backward and we do not agree with that position,”he said.
“In fact, many fishermen are angry. We expect them to be committed to their promises and bolstering the Defense Force to protect our marine resources was one of their promises. This is a let down and we are angered by it.”
Mr LaRoda argued that the Defence Force was “severely handicapped” in tackling the poaching issue due to its limited fleet.
“The Defence Force is severely handicapped already. We know that based on their own arrest record. It’s been 14 months since they apprehended the last poaching vessel. Fishermen tell me they see poachers on a regular basis. In the past few weeks alone I have gotten reports of 16 different boats,” said Mr LaRoda.
He added: “If this poaching issue persists this is going to wipe out our fishing industry. Poachers practice indiscriminate fishing. They take everything out of the water.
“Bahamians wouldn’t do that. Bahamians wouldn’t harvest undersized crawfishl you can’t sell it, Why would you do that? Bahamians understand the need for sustainability. The poachers don’t care, they wipe us out and go somewhere else. They wipe out their fishing grounds; why should they care about ours?”
In August this year, the Christie administration appointed an 11-person “management committee” with responsibility for overseeing the acquisition of 11 new Defence Force vessels.
At the time, Minister of National Security, Dr Bernard Nottage, said the acquisition of the boats was expected to cost the Government $119 million, with associated costs such as project management and those related to substantial upgrades of existing facilities and other infrastructural improvements, taking the total cost up to $200 million.
Mr Christie said recently that going forward, his administration must be prudent and work on a cost-benefit basis in all areas, including the Defence Force.
A Bahamian ministerial delegation recently held talks with Dominican Republic officials on the poaching issue. Plans are said to be underway for the formation of a business council with the Dominican Republic to bolster trade between that country and the Bahamas.