Minister of Financial Services Ryan Pinder
By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
BY LAW, every Bahamian fisherman has the right to carry arms on the high seas in order to protect themselves from Dominican poachers, Elizabeth MP Ryan Pinder said yesterday.
Mr Pinder, who also serves as Minister of Financial Services, made the comments in Parliament following criticism from Opposition North Eleuthera MP Theo Neilly, who accused the government of doing very little to protect Bahamian fishermen from challenges by foreign poachers.
Mr Neilly was responding to Fisheries Minister V Alfred Gray’s recent statement that he would not support all fishermen carrying guns despite their fears of serious harm at the hands of Dominicans.
Fishermen have told The Tribune they are outnumbered and unequipped to deal with poachers who are often armed with spare guns.
Mr Neilly said: “They keep telling me that this is an issue that must be dealt with. The disturbing things these fishermen tell me is the Minister’s recent announcement that they should not carry guns out to sea. Whose side is that Minister on? Whose side are we supposed to be on? Do we really believe in Bahamians or clearly not just Bahamian fishermen?”
Mr Pinder accused Mr Neilly of attempting to mislead the Bahamian public by painting a picture that the government had changed the laws placing them in an unfavourable position.
“Mr Speaker, there is no change in law by this government to disallow fishermen from arming themselves and having duly licensed firearms on their vessels. That was the law of the land yesterday, (it is the law) today and (it will be) tomorrow,” he said.
Two weeks ago, 40 Dominicans suspected of poaching off the coast of Andros were apprehended. Three others evaded capture.
According to Royal Bahamas Defence Force reports, the Dominicans, along with their fishing vessel, were taken into custody for illegally fishing in Bahamian waters.
The Dominican vessel was intercepted approximately 75 nautical miles south of Andros with several thousand pounds of fish on board.
The vessel and crew were found with 9,000lbs of mixed fish, 1,291lbs of margaret fish, 185lbs of Nassau grouper, 1,257lbs of hog fish, 334lbs of conch and 22,000lbs of crawfish. Authorities said 8,000 lbs were undersized.
In January, almost $100,000 in fines were collected from the captain and crew of a Dominican vessel who were arrested for illegally fishing in Bahamian waters in December.
During that apprehension, 17 Dominicans were caught, but 33 others got away after the group of 50 were spotted poaching near Cay Lobos just off the Great Bahama Bank.