By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
BAHAMIAN fishermen remain "extremely concerned" over potential clashes with Dominican poachers, while lamenting that the crawfish season to-date is "turning out to be the worst season ever".
Keith Carroll, the Bahamas Commercial Fishers Alliance's (BCFA) vice-president, told Tribune Business yesterday that the dismal outlook for this crawfish season, which runs from August 1 to March 31, was largely due to poaching.
He said the recent shoot-out between Dominican poachers and the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) was "no surprise", adding that Bahamian fishermen have long voiced their concerns over the aggressive nature of their Dominican counterparts.
"We are always concerned about them. They have always been aggressive. We just try to avoid them every time we see them," Mr Carroll said. "If they shoot at the Defence Force, imagine what they would do to us.
"This has been happening for the last 27 years to Bahamian fishermen. We have to put up with this every time we go out to sea. We don't want any confrontation with them. If we see them we move and go somewhere else. They don't mean our country any good. We have to give up our own grounds and move on. It's not right, but thankfully the Defence Force are out there doing their job."
When asked about prospects for the 2018-2019 crawfish season, Mr Carroll replied: "So far, this is turning out to be the worst season ever. Each year it's getting worse. We hope things can turn around but it's not looking good."
According to a press release from the RBDF, no Bahamians were hurt during the shoot-out last week, and 124 Dominican crew members are in custody. Three "motherships" have been seized.
The arrests capped off a three-day joint operation between the RBDF, the US Coast Guard and the Cuban Border Patrol. Last Wednesday, a US Coast Guard cutter, with an RBDF ship-rider on board, reported sighting a fishing vessel from the Dominican Republic north of Haiti. The Dominicans aboard the vessel indicated that they were heading to The Bahamas, the RBDF said.
After being notified, the RBDF was directed to intercept the Dominican vessel in the event it entered Bahamian waters. HMBS Madeira later spotted the three vessels at daybreak on Saturday with skiffs in the water near Cay Lobos - a small cay on the southern edge of the Great Bahama Bank, 12 nautical miles north of central Cuba.
"Madeira deployed its sea boat with a boarding team to apprehend the motherships before they entered Cuban waters," the RBDF said. "The Dominican vessels opened fire on the approaching boarding team while fleeing into Cuban waters. Madeira's boarding party returned fire in self-defence.
"One of the three steel-hulled vessels ran aground in Cuban waters while trying to escape. None of the Defense Force boarding team members was injured during the incident. The Defence Force immediately alerted the Cuban Border Patrol of the incident, and informed the Bahamas Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which sought the assistance of the Cuban government in apprehending the vessels."
Cuba's Border Patrol apprehended the three vessels with 124 crew members on Saturday, and turned them over to HMBS Durward Knowles, which was on patrol in the southeastern Bahamas investigating a separate report of a suspicious vessel in the area.