By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
V ALFRED Gray, Agriculture and Marine Resources Minister, wants to increase the severity of penalties on fishermen caught poaching in Bahamian waters.
If cabinet approves, Mr Gray said those found guilty of illegally fishing could face a minimum fine of $250,000 and up to 25 years in prison. As it stands, the law books only sanction a maximum sentence of five years coupled with the confiscation of fishing tools and vessels. Any seafood found would also be taken into custody and given to local charities.
Mr Gray’s desire to have such convicts dealt with by the stiff arm of the law is the result, among other things, of the discussions between the government and Dominican Republic officials.
Bahamian officials, held talks in Santo Domingo a week ago to address concerns by Bahamian fishermen of Dominican poachers in our waters.
“I can assure you,” he said, “that the Ministry will in short order be asking the Attorney General’s office to amend certain sections of the Fisheries Act to give effect to greater penalties. I can tell you that I am foreshadowing that the penalties will be up to 25 years if I can get the Cabinet’s approval for those convicted of poaching in the Bahamas. The fines would, in my view, if I can get the Cabinet to agree, start at $250,000 rather than the minimum penalty which presently exists.”
The Minister also hoped that an agreement could be reached between both countries that would allow active seafood exporting from the Bahamas.
While the Christie administration has vowed to make major investments in new Defence Force technology to combat poaching, Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell said that the Dominican government has also agreed to help in this initiative.
Mr Mitchell said: “The government of the Dominican Republic from its highest levels, that is, from the lips of President Danilo Medina himself pledged that this problem would be addressed.
“He gave specific instructions to the naval forces in the Dominican Republic to begin a series of measures which the navy has predicted will result in a drastic decline in poaching in Bahamian waters.”
The Dominican government has also agreed to outfit licensed fishing vessels with trackers that will monitor and ensure that there are no unauthorised cross overs to Bahamian waters.
Mr Mitchell said two follow-up meetings have been scheduled that will send another Bahamas delegation back to the Dominican Republic to follow up on draft proposals for a technical cooperation agreement.
The Defence Forces of both countries will also hold discussions in the coming weeks.