By NATARIO McKENZIE
Tribune Business Reporter
A Cabinet minister yesterday emphatically denied the Government plans to reverse the ban on longline fishing, telling Tribune Business: "We won't change now."
Michael Pintard, minister of agriculture and marine resources, said he had been taken aback by the Bahamas National Trust's (BNT) unexpected public expression of concern that the Government was about to permit this practice within the waters of the exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
He added that the Minnis administration has "no plans" to reverse course on the prohibition of longline fishing, and said: "The Government's view on this has not changed for many years and won't change now. There is no discussion among government officials or the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources with the view to entertaining that.
"I want to make it crystal clear that no such statement was made by my predecessor or myself. The issue that does not arise. The Government's view on this has not changed for many years and won't change now," said Mr Pintard.
His comments came after the BNT released a statement in which it described longline fishing as a destructive practice that could change the Bahamian way of life forever.
Shelley Cant Woodside, the BNT's director of science and policy, said that while the Trust was open to exploring the possibility of developing sustainable pelagic fisheries for commercial fishermen, it would not support any legislation that allowed longline fishing.
This is the use of hook and line gear that can have thousands of baited hooks on lines which extend many kilometres from the vessel. Long lines can be used to fish Pelagics near the surface using floats, or near the bottom using weights, depending upon the targeted species.
The BNT statement, which appeared to be a response to Mr Pintard's previous statement that his ministry and the Department of Marine Resources (DMR) were exploring the expansion of commercial fishing to species such as tuna, warned that long line fishing had devastated stocks around the globe.
"The BNT is aware that many pelagic species are already being fished daily in Bahamian waters and has not taken a position opposing Bahamian fishermen targeting these fish," the statement read.
"What the BNT has raised with the Minister and DMR officials are concerns regarding the use of unsustainable and destructive methods. The BNT is aware that there are persons advocating for the amendment of Bahamas fishery legislation to allow for longline fishing. This practice is known around the world to have devastating effects on marine resources.
The statement continued: "The BNT would not necessarily stand in opposition to commercial fishermen exploring the feasibility of developing sustainable pelagic fisheries, but we are emphatically opposed to the establishment of a long-line fishery within the Bahamian Economic Exclusive Zone."
Mr Pintard yesterday reiterated that the Government is open to discussions with all relevant stakeholders on which pelagic fisheries may be harvested in a sustainable manner.
"We want consultation with stakeholders and see what the science dictates. The issue of long line fishing doesn't even arise as no such plans have been articulated or even considered. We want to look at a variety of pelagic species and give consideration to their economic viability. That, however, will not be without looking at sustainability," said Mr Pintard, adding that the Government has been firm with respect to unsustainable practices by both Bahamians and foreigners.