By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
Bahamian fishermen were yesterday ecstatic that the Government is eyeing a ‘five-fold’ increase in fines levied on Dominican poachers, and is looking to prohibit foreigners from working on Bahamian fishing vessels.
Adrian LaRoda, president of the Bahamas Commercial Fishers Alliance, said this was a “destructive” practice, and charged that it was far too common for “greedy operators” to obtain permits for Dominicans to purportedly work as engineers and boat captains.
“These guys turn the vessels completely over to the Dominican captain, who would then bring in his nationals illegally to work on these vessels. These is absolutely no reason why there should be foreign nationals on Bahamian vessels. There are enough Bahamians to man every Bahamian fishing vessel. All Bahamians have been asking for is their fair share,” said Mr LaRoda.
V Alfred Gray, minister of agriculture and marine resources, speaking after a presentation at the National Quality Infrastructure Forum, said he had obtained Cabinet approval to increase the fine levied against Dominican poachers.
“I have gotten Cabinet approval to increase the penalty on poaching. Presently it is $50,000 for the captains as a fine. We have gotten approvals to increase it five-fold to a $250,000 fine for the captain,” he said.
‘It used to be $5,000 per crew. We have gotten approvals to increase it to $25,000 per crew member on the vessels which we might arrest.”
Mr LaRoda added that in many cases, Dominican poachers are apprehended, sent to court, fined and deported. Within a week or two, many of them are back in Bahamian waters again.
Mr Gray also said: “There are Bahamian fishermen using Dominican nationals and other nationals, as they put it, as captain and engineers to their vessels, but as soon as these vessels leave the port these captains and engineers go overboard and dive as if they are fishermen.
“That is not going to be allowed to happen. Quite frankly, I’m seeking Cabinet’s approval formally that there will be no nationals other than Bahamians working on Bahamian vessels. I’m hoping we can make that announcement very shortly.
“We will only approve Bahamians working on Bahamian fishing vessels for fishing in the Bahamas, period. Being married to a Bahamian doesn’t give you citizenship. Until you get citizenship we aren’t talking to you because we are not going to allow this abuse of our Immigration work permit system to continue,” Mr Gray added.
“I’m hoping that in the next week or two, the Foreign Affairs Ministry will join me in formalising that announcement. Bahamians need to know; don’t apply for these people to be engineers and captains knowing you are going to be putting them overboard. We are going to tighten up our laws to ensure that Bahamian people benefit from what is in the Bahamas.”