By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
BAHAMAS Commercial Fishers Alliance President Adrian LaRoda yesterday called for Dominican and other poaching vessels to be “immediately sunk” if caught illegally fishing in Bahamian waters. He said the country is “past the point of negotiations and talking and dealing with these matters passively.”
Mr LaRoda told The Tribune that the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) needs to take a “no tolerance stance” against poachers, adding that he would be meeting with association members and “make appeals to our partners in other places to assist us with this kind of issue”.
He also said going forward, the association will be seeking a “deeper response” from the government on the matter.
He was contacted a day after National Security Minister Dr Bernard Nottage revealed that RBDF marines were involved in a shootout and subsequent high-speed chase with suspected Dominican poachers in the Cay Lobos area on Monday night.
No marines were hurt, nor were any of the vessels damaged during the testy encounter, according to Dr Nottage.
The suspected vessel ultimately escaped capture after it entered Cuban waters and HMBS Cascarilla called off the chase.
“Speaking for an industry, we have gone past the point of negotiations and talking and dealing with these matters passively,” Mr LaRoda said. “Our military needs to take a firmer stance, and have a no tolerance stance to the point where when these vessels are found they are immediately sunk because we’re past the diplomatic process now.
“We’ve been negotiating now for 10 years. We now need to take a stance of action, where no questions are asked, the persons are incarcerated, and the vessels are immediately sunk. The same way the (United States) does it, that’s what we need to do.”
Mr LaRoda also called for stiffer penalties for poaching, which he suggested should entail lengthy terms of imprisonment for those caught in the act.
“The only deterrent is for these people to be kept away from their families for years and years, because the financial impact of illegal fishing far outweighs whatever fines could be imposed on them,” he said. “So they’re not afraid to pay the fines, and unfortunately the fines in the Bahamas have been fairly low – very low as a matter of fact, compared to other countries with similar issues.
“So yes, a deterrent may be stiffer fines under the new fisheries regulations. That could be a major deterrent, but again until that’s enacted, until that’s put into force, we do not know how much of a deterrent it is. And for the life of me I can’t figure out why that has not been brought to Parliament yet.”
Mr LaRoda also said it is “sad” that it took Monday’s incident to illustrate the dangers Bahamian fishermen face at sea, particularly in the southern Bahamas.
“It’s normal to have 11 poaching vessels out on the fishing grounds, compared to the two or three Bahamian vessels,” Mr LaRoda said. “And if you have 11 (poaching) boats out there, and each boat has 30 to 40 men on it, that’s a real threat. And we have been complaining about these things for years.”
He added: “At one point the politicians used to make fun of it and say oh we’re seeing ghosts, ‘the fishermen are seeing ghosts.’ Well now the ghosts shot at the Defence Force boat.”
The government has previously engaged the Dominican government in discussions in an attempt to curb the long-standing problem of poachers from that country robbing Bahamian waters of hundreds of thousands of pounds of seafood.
On Tuesday, Dr Nottage said Foreign Affairs and Immigration Minister Fred Mitchell, who is in the Dominican Republic on government business, has taken Monday’s incident up with the government there. Dr Nottage also said he has directed an “immediate and thorough investigation” into the matter by law enforcement agencies.