By MORGAN ADDERLEY
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Fisheries Act is currently being reviewed by an advisory committee which will present recommendations to the government in October over possible stiffer penalties for poachers, Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Michael Pintard said yesterday.
“This government is absolutely committed to significant penalties for captains of these vessels as well as their crew,” Mr Pintard said.
“And that entails not just increasing the fines, but also prison time.”
Mr Pintard said the government wants to send a “strong message” to everyone engaged in poaching, ranging from American sports fishermen to trade fishermen from the Dominican Republic.
“We should also say though that Bahamian fishermen have also been guilty of unsafe practices,” Mr Pintard added. “The season has just opened and a number of arrests have in fact been made. While we want all of these businesses to succeed, we don’t want them to succeed at all costs.”
Mr Pintard declined to say how much the penalties will increase by, simply stating they will be “substantial”.
His comments came at a press conference at the Ministry of Agriculture to announce the Bahamas spiny lobster became the first Caribbean fishery in the world to receive the Marine Stewardship Council’s certification of sustainability.
Mr Pintard described this honour as “one of the world’s most recognised and reputable seafood certifications.”
The $90m Bahamian lobster industry employs approximately 9,000 people. This MSC certification verifies to the world that the Bahamian lobster is sustainable. According to a press release, this “increases demand” and “secures international markets” for the sale of the product.
“The lobster tails are now eligible to carry the internationally recognised MSC blue fish label, which makes it easy for consumers to know that they’re choosing seafood that is as good for them as it is for the ocean,” the press release continued.
This project was nine years in the making and a multi-agency effort. MSC certification was granted after a detailed 19-month assessment was completed.
Edison Deleveaux, acting director of fisheries, noted the “bulk” of the financing for the endeavour came from the Bahamas Marine Exporters Association, a voluntary association which was formed in 2010.
When asked by reporters if there are plans to have other fisheries become MSC certified, Mr Deleveaux said not currently.
“This is a nine-year project. And it encompasses not only expertise but also financing,” Mr Deleveaux said.
“We have begun with lobster, there are other fisheries that may come on stream later on, but now…the primary concern has been the lobster fishery.”
According to Mr Pintard, another benefit of the MSC certification is “enhanced access” to foreign markets, which is expected to translate into long-term benefits for “all involved in the fishery”.
However, Mr Pintard admitted the certification does not mean “our fishery management system is perfect”. Other issues persist in the industry, including illegal, underreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing, by both local and foreign fishermen.
Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) Commodore Tellis Bethel was also present at yesterday’s press conference.
He reiterated that RBDF patrols have increased, and said the organisation is “taking some long-term measures” to help sustain the fisheries industry. This includes the decentralisation of its operations, inclusive of the establishment of bases in Inagua and Ragged Island.
“Additionally, we are seeking to improve our technological capabilities,” Mr Bethel said. “Within a few weeks we would have installed our first coastal radar on the island of Inagua. And that’s a long-term plan for the installation of a series of radars at strategic locations throughout our chain of islands.”
He noted the minister of national security, with government support, has recently approved “the establishment of a multi-agency drone programme to also assist various agencies, including agriculture and fisheries as well as the local police.”
“That programme initially is expected to be launched by the end of this year,” the commodore said.
“There is a collaborative effort and certainly it’s not one agency that can solve this problem, dealing with over 100,000 square miles of water.”