EDITOR, The Tribune.
Please allow me to shed some light on the truth about the fishing industry of our country to the Bahamian people.
As a fisherman for 30 years now, I have seen a lot of changes take place in the fishing industry. I’ve seen the beauty of our marine resources throughout our nation for many years sustain an abundant catch for many fishermen here in Spanish Wells as well as for other parts of the Bahamas that depend on our fishing industry for an income. But today with an industry that is still very strong the dangers of the high seas are not the only obstacles we face. There is a new underwater predator that is a natural born killer destroying everything it comes across leaving a trail of death for everything in its path. And that is the Dominican divers who are allowed to dive on commercial Bahamian fishing vessels. These divers come from a country that has no regulation on their own fishing industry and has totally wiped out their marine resources and are now poaching our country to death.
Coming from the Dominican Republic on their own vessels in the south and being allowed to fish on Bahamian vessels in the north will in years to come reap death and destruction for our nation’s marine resources if the Government does not act and put a stop to this grim marine reaper. Permits given to these Dominicans and to whoever else is not Bahamian to be able to fish within the territorial waters of the Bahamas is according to Chapter 244 of the Fisheries Act illegal.
I have for many years tried to bring this to the attention of the Bahamian Government but apparently with the previous government political affiliation was greater than the needs of the Bahamian fishermen. I’m not saying that the former PLP government before them didn’t do the same, I just know that the former FNM Government was supposed to be a clean hands Government. They were supposed to be different than the PLP, so tell me former Minister of Immigration, why were so many permits given to a former Deputy Prime Minister who now owns a seafood company?
Remember the article by a Mr Percy Roberts about allowing the Dominican fishermen into our fishing industry. I’ll leave you, the Bahamian people, to connect the dots. And now to the “Believe in the Bahamas” PLP Government one year gone and we are still waiting. We know that diplomatic efforts have been made.
But we as Bahamian fishermen know the Dominican Government could care less, their boats still fish our waters and business is as usual.
We know that money has been allocated to strengthen our Defence Force, but as a fisherman who spends half of my life out to sea I want to inform you that the Dominican poachers are still there!
On our Bahamian boats that you were not going to issue any new work permits for that were issued by the former government, they are still there. The compressor permits that you are not issuing to foreigners they are still diving without them and while crooked seafood operators grow rich off the backs of Dominicans fishing on Bahamian boats, true Bahamian fishermen are losing.
I have sent e-mails to the Minister of Immigration, Minister of National Security and wasn’t even given the respect of a reply. I’ve spoken to the Minister of Fisheries who as a Bahamian I hold doubly responsible because this is his second time around as Minister telling me that their hands are tied and we don’t have the resources to do the job. Respectfully at least he told the truth.
Well, Government, you better figure out something soon. As I sit here writing this letter, our country once again is being poached in the off season, a time when our crawfish are spawning on our fishing ground.
As I write our conch beds are being destroyed by foreign poachers and Dominicans diving on Bahamian boats.
Government of the Bahamas, the world is watching.
To the Bahamian people, do you know that we now have to have a catch certificate to monitor our catch? In other words, our seafood export is certified and if the world market thinks that the Bahamas is being overfished they can cut us off from selling our seafood. Just imagine what would happen to our country with many of the family islands in the Bahamas depending on the seafood industry to survive.
The country of the Dominican Republic could care less about catch certificates - there are more hotel rooms in one city in that country than in the entire Bahamas which means that they can sell all the seafood to the tourists that visit their shores without having to export, unlike our 70 million dollar export seafood industry.
And so, Bahamians, just giving you a little taste of what we as true Bahamian fishermen now face in our country. You want to protect are waters, but say you don’t have the resources. Ask for help until we can do it on our own. Aren’t we a part of the Commonwealth? Turks and Caicos are our next door neighbours guarded by British armed forces – ask for help!
You talk about putting a ban on conch – get the Dominicans off the Bahamian fishing boats and you’ll see the difference. Bahamas, the fishing industry of our country is something that we can say is truly Bahamian. And if we would have kept it that way we would not have had half the problems we have now. Some people say we have always had foreigners in our fishing industry. Take a ten thousand gallon rain water tank for example, pour in a cup of bleach to purify it will never hurt you, but pour in 500 gallons of bleach and it will hurt you and that’s where we are now with these Dominicans in our fishing industry.
Something must be done – what will it take? A nation is only as strong as its people. The fishing industry of the Bahamas is an historical fact and will remain a truly Bahamian Industry for many generations to come. We don’t need foreigners in our commercial fishing industry. You want to change something in our Constitution, make it to where only citizens of The Commonwealth of The Bahamas are allowed to fish commercially in the territorial waters of The Bahamas.
No spousal permits – seafood operators in this country have already manipulated the law and we now see marriages of convenience to get them on Bahamian fishing boats.
I as a truly generational born Bahamian cannot marry an American woman and fish commercially in the Territorial Waters of The United States of America with a spousal permit, so why should it be any different here? This will take a lot of corruption away that is now taking place in our country’s fishing industry.
Our seafood industry is something that we as Bahamians give to the rest of the world. How, for example, can a boat with 19 dingies carrying over 30 Dominicans to dive for seafood be justified by our Government? It can’t! It’s a sell out and it must stop.
As the mv Bohengy enters the harbour of Spanish Wells the Captain comes on the radio and says “Welcome to Spanish Wells, the Fishing Capital of The Bahamas!”
When we hold a fisheries meeting in Spanish Wells to make all of these cries made known to the Government, they say: “You are the best at what you do.” Well, Bahamas, we have already in the last two years tied three fishing boats to the dock partly because of things I have stated in this letter. If this is happening to those who are noted as the best, what do you think is happening to the rest of the Bahamas? What will it take?
I am proud to be a Bahamian. It’s time for the government to stop listening to the market place and start listening to the fishermen who supply the fish. For the market does not leave their family and spend weeks away from home to make a living to provide for their family, the fishermen do.
The noise in the marketplace doesn’t see Dominican fishing boats raiding our fishing grounds, the fishermen do. The noise in the market place doesn’t want you to see the Dominicans hired out by Bahamians to work on their boats and are killing everything that swims.
Besides undersized crawfish and grouper, thousands of juvenile conch that are not dived and then brought up and then broke out, but are broke out on the sea floor in the middle of our conch beds eventually killing them out. But the fishermen do.
Nearly one year of “Believe in The Bahamas” Government has gone and business is as usual. Crooked seafood operators winning and hard working Bahamian fishermen are slowly losing. Dominican poachers still destroying our marine resources and Government giving excuses instead of taking this matter as a threat of national security.
A $70 million dollar-a-year industry with the world watching and nothing being done is a serious matter. Anyone who knows me knows that i’m not scared of the truth – I don’t care what Government is in power.
The FNM failed the Bahamian fisherman and so far nearly one year later not much has changed with the PLP.
Mr Prime Minister, Rome wasn’t built in a day, but the Roman Empire during that time while it was building was still conquering the world. The former FNM Government heard our cries for five years and still sold out. What say you, Mr Christie?
In this country, it seems as if who is willing to pay the most gets the most done. That is a big price to pay when the world’s seafood market may say “no” and hundreds of Bahamian fishermen and fishing boats are tied to the dock because they cannot sell what they have caught because we, for whatever reason, refused to get the Dominicans out of our seafood industry and failed to stop the poaching of our waters.
What will it take? May God Bless the Bahamian fisherman and may God truly Bless the people of The Commonwealth of the Bahamas.
April 21, 2013.