By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
OFFICIALS from the Dominican Republic are concerned about lengthy prison sentences given to fishermen found guilty of poaching in Bahamian waters, Foreign Affairs Minister Darren Henfield revealed yesterday.
The concern was raised in a recent meeting between The Bahamas government and a delegation from the Dominican Republic when they also made commitments to assist in discouraging the practice of illegal fishing in Bahamian waters.
The officials further pledged, among other things, to instal indicators in fishing vessels coming out of that country to better monitor their movements.
This comes after the Royal Bahamas Defence Force - for the second time in a week - arrested a group of Dominican fishermen for illegally operating in Bahamians seas. Two Dominican small, go-fast type boats were apprehended at 11am on Monday just off North East Point, Inagua by the RBDF while on routine patrol. Onboard were seven Dominican fishermen along with several air compressors and containers of gasoline.
A week ago, on December 11, another seven Dominican fishermen were arrested by the RBDF off Inagua. They have since been charged before the courts on several counts resulting in sentences up to nine months and $413,000 in fines.
“I think discussions with the Dominican government have been going tremendously well,” Mr Henfield said yesterday outside the Churchill Building.
“About two to three weeks ago a team from the Dominican Republic came, led by a minister, Minister Espinoza, which is responsible for external relations to a certain extent and she brought with her members from the fisheries association from the Dominican Republic and made some commitment that the Dominican government would do more to help alleviate this problem of incursions into our waters to fish illegally.
“Some of these indications seem to suggest they will put indicators on Dominican vessels that leave. That these vessels will have to report to the Dominican government before they leave and that they would continue to communicate to their people that fishing in the Bahamas is illegal and you could end up in prison for a very long time.
“In that meeting there was also present members from the Royal Bahamas Defence Force – the Commander, Tellis Bethel, and several of his senior officers as well as people from agriculture and fisheries and other government agencies concerned with this matter. The next step for us now is for us to have our technical people sit in a room and hammer out memorandums of understanding as to how we will proceed forward when we address this issue. For them it is a concern that their fishermen are in Fox Hill for such an extended period of time.”
Mr Henfield said officials warned the delegation about Dominicans becoming more aggressive at sea when confronted by Bahamian authorities.
“We indicated to them that Dominican fishermen are becoming more and more aggressive toward Bahamian law enforcement and even Bahamian fishermen in the past.
“We also commended our Royal Bahamas Defence Force for the level of discretion they used in not using far more superior fire power on a Dominican fishing vessel fleeing into Cuban territory. I’m confident that our Defence Force working with Dominican law enforcement, with the fisheries association in the Dominican Republic doing what they promised to do with us (and) working with the Dominican government as well as the Cuban government we’re going to make real inroads in this matter of illegal poaching in Bahamian waters.”
Mr Henfield also told reporters there was no official agreement between the Dominican Republic and the former Christie administration, so there was a need to ensure one was signed and sealed now.
However, he said, he was confident the Dominican government was willing to cooperate with the Bahamian government.