By KHRISNA VIRGIL
Tribune Staff Reporter
BAHAMAS Commercial Fishers Alliance President Adrian LaRoda says he is optimistic that the new fleet of RBDF vessels will deter Dominican poachers who continue to “pillage” Bahamian waters of valuable seafood.
Mr LaRoda said he was disappointed that diplomatic talks between the government and officials in the Dominican Republic (DR) appeared to have been in vain.
Last year Agriculture and Marine Resources Minister V Alfred Gray and Minister of Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell headed a delegation to the Dominican Republic to hold high level talks over the problem. Mr Gray said he was pleased with the discussions and hoped to see a fall in the volume of Dominican vessels violating Bahamian law.
In addition, Mr Gray announced that he would seek to increase the penalty for poachers of fines up to $250,000 for the captain, $50,000 for each crew member, and that the vessel be confiscated. As it stands, the fine for each poacher does not exceed $5,000.
However, Mr LaRoda told The Tribune yesterday that fishermen continue to see dozens of Dominicans at sea each day.
“Poaching continues to be a serious issue,” Mr LaRoda said. “We still see a mass of vessels in our waters. But we believe we’ll see a decrease very soon.
“We are not convinced that the government’s talks with the Dominican Republic would have resulted in any success at all. They were just that, talks. But we commend the government. It was noble for them to have diplomatic talks with the Dominican Republic.
“At the end of the day, they have hotel rooms to feed and a high demand for seafood that cannot be supplied from their own waters. So this issue of poaching is just something we will continue to face. The only thing that can combat it is more RBDF boats at sea.”
In February, RBDF officers arrested 40 Dominicans, who were suspected of poaching off the coast of Andros.
The Dominican vessel was intercepted approximately 75 nautical miles south of Andros with an undetermined amount of fish on board. The vessel and its occupants were detained by Defence Force marines and brought to New Providence.
In January, nearly $100,000 in fines were collected from the captain and crew of a Dominican vessel that had been arrested for illegally fishing in Bahamian waters in December.
With that arrest, 17 Dominicans were caught, but 33 others evaded capture after the group of 50 was spotted poaching near Cay Lobos, just off the Great Bahama Bank.
With the object of protecting Bahamian waters, the government in March signed a $232m contract for the building of a fleet of nine vessels. HMBS Arthur Dion Hanna was the first of the boats to arrive in Nassau last week ahead of schedule after making a 20-day voyage from the Netherlands where it was built.
The agreement with Deutsche Bank also seeks to provide massive upgrades for RBDF bases at Coral Harbour, Gun Point, Ragged Island and Mathew Town, Inagua.