By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
Eighteen Dominicans, suspected of poaching, are now in police custody after being caught with an “undetermined amount” of fish and crawfish in waters off Exuma last week.
However, Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) officials are now on the hunt for four other Dominicans seen aboard two skiffs that accompanied the captured Dominicans’ 100-foot, steel-hulled vessel, but fled upon sight of Bahamian authorities.
The apprehended Dominicans, the vessel they used, and the illegal catch have been turned over to the Royal Bahamas Police Force, the Department of Marine Resources and the Ministry of Finance for further investigations, RBDF officials said.
Yesterday, a statement from the RBDF said the Dominican fishing vessel was intercepted on the Great Bahama Bank southwest of Great Exuma on Friday.
The Dominican fishing vessel was intercepted by RBDF patrol craft P-129, and was later assisted by P-44.
“Eighteen Dominicans were found on board the vessel by defence force marines,” the statement said. “A search is being conducted by Defence Force aircraft and patrol craft for four Dominicans aboard two skiffs that were in company with the Dominican vessel but had fled the scene. An undetermined quantity of scale fish and crawfish was also found aboard the 100-foot, steel-hulled vessel.”
Last October, Agriculture Minister V Alfred Gray confirmed that a “five-fold” increase in fines levied against poachers operating in Bahamian waters had been approved by Cabinet.
Mr Gray said the Cabinet had approved harsher penalties for both captains and crew members engaged in poaching. He said the move was an attempt to “ensure that Bahamian people benefit from what’s in the Bahamas.”
At the time, he said the approval would increase the poaching fine from $50,000 for a boat captain to $250,000 and from $5,000 per crew member to $25,000.
The government has previously engaged the Dominican government in discussions in an attempt to curb the long-standing problem of poachers, mainly Dominican, robbing Bahamian waters of hundreds of thousands of pounds of seafood. Last year, at least two Dominican fishing boats loaded with fresh catch were intercepted in Bahamian waters.
In February 2014, Mr Gray said he met with Dominican Republic President Danilo Medina who gave his assurances that the Christie administration had the country’s full support in tackling the issue.
Mr Gray said a memorandum of understanding was prepared, with one of the conditions being that Dominican vessels were to be outfitted with GPS systems to ensure that the fishermen do not venture out of their own borders.
However, with the continued violation of the fisheries laws, Mr Gray said he was not sure whether officials in the Dominican Republic took the government’s warnings seriously. At the time he said he was “not satisfied” with the “progress of those negotiations.”
In an effort to bolster the RBDF fleet in response to these issues however, the Christie administration last year announced its purchase of nine new RBDF vessels with a loan from the Deutsche Bank.