By KHRISNA RUSSELL
Deputy Chief Reporter
FISHERMEN faced with repeated threats from Dominican poachers said they were “extremely disappointed” with the lukewarm stance taken by Foreign Affairs Minister Darren Henfield in the government’s efforts to end the illegal practise in Bahamian waters.
As officials from the Dominican Republic have given assurances previously to cooperate with this country in discouraging poaching, Bahamas Commercial Fishers Alliance and the Spanish Wells Fishing Association yesterday said no reliance should be placed on their promises.
“They have shown no willingness to cooperate with us, it is time we do the same,” both organisations said in a strongly worded statement released in response to Mr Henfield’s latest comments on the poaching dilemma.
On Tuesday, the minister said Dominican officials are concerned about lengthy prison sentences given to fishermen found guilty of poaching in Bahamian waters.
He said this 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 install indicators in fishing vessels coming out of that country to better monitor their movements. He also said Dominican officials were warned about poachers becoming more aggressive at sea when confronted by Bahamian authorities.
This comes as two separate arrests of poachers occurred within a week.
“We write to openly express our sentiments to the people of the Bahamas and the minister of foreign affairs regarding the latest series of arrests by the Royal Bahamas Defence Force of poachers, specifically poachers from the Dominican Republic who shot at and in one case rammed and extensively damaged a RBDF vessel,” the organisations said yesterday.
“The Bahamas fishing community and fishing families in general are disappointed in the statement from the minister of foreign affairs published in the newspapers, and would have expected a stronger position in defence of her citizens, her courts and her sovereignty. “Illegal fishing is just one breach of the laws of the Bahamas, however these breaches result in losses to our economy of tens of millions of dollars annually, threats to our status as a country with a sustainable marine ecosystem and most important, the threats to the lives of fishermen.
“As fishermen we face unending threats with little support from the agencies charged to protect us or organisations who claim to want to do so. Therefore it is incumbent upon us as fisher folk to formally state that we are extremely disappointed as lukewarm verbiage translates to no tangible action particularly when there is sufficient evidence that poachers from the Dominican Republic are aided and sanctioned by their government to carry out this fisheries terrorism against the Bahamas.
“Previously the minister in essence instructed us, fishermen, to wave the white flag and retreat and allow our seas to be raped and plundered by the pirates of Puerto Plata, all while we try to recover from the loss’s suffered from two devastating hurricanes and other restrictions.”
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.
The fisheries groups continued: “The government of the DR has made numerous promises to monitor their fishing fleet with vessel monitoring systems, they have signed numerous agreements to curb poaching by their nationals, they have made numerous promises to punish any citizen that did not adhere to the fisheries laws.
“. . . No reliance should be placed in any assurance given by the Dominican Republic. They have shown no willingness to cooperate with us, it is time we do the same.
The government of the Bahamas must take a hard stance once and for all against this threat, ‘soft words’ from the minister of foreign affairs will not allay our fears for the future for our children.”
In 2012, then Foreign Affairs Minister Fred Mitchell, then Agriculture and Marine Resources Minister V Alfred Gray, then Financial Services Minister Ryan Pinder and now deceased National Security Minister Bernard Nottage held bilateral talks in Santo Domingo. At the time Mr Mitchell said the Dominican government was receptive about the concerns raised by Bahamian officials regarding poaching.
At the time he said the government needed to move on with the discussions, adding there would be greater enforcement. He said officials were cautiously optimistic that there would be changes regarding poaching.
However, Mr Henfield said Tuesday no agreement was ever finalised or signed leading to the need for there to be one now.