By RASHAD ROLLE
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE government is being sued for denying 20 foreigners permits to harvest crawfish.
The applicants are mostly nationals of the Dominican Republic and Honduras. According to a lawsuit filed by their lawyer Dion Smith, they have either spousal permits or are permanent residents and are employed on Bahamian-owned fishing vessels as divers. The vessels are used specifically for capturing crawfish during crawfish season between August and March.
Mr Smith says the decision to deprive them of dive compressor permits, which are essential for harvesting crawfish at certain depths, has affected their livelihood.
Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Michael Pintard announced the Bahamian-only policy earlier this year. He said under no circumstance would compressor permits be issued to people who have work permits.
Mr Smith says this not only contravenes the Immigration Act, which empowers people with spousal permits and permanent residency to be gainfully employed, but also Article 26 of the Constitution.
Mr Smith wants the Supreme Court to grant an injunction allowing his clients to fish until the case is finished because they would lose their jobs if they can't before the end of the crawfish season.
He wants a declaration that the failure to issue compressor permits to his clients on or before August 1, 2019, was a violation of the principles of natural justice. He wants judicial review proceedings over the matter.
"All applicants have been granted permission by the department of immigration to engage in gainful employment without restrictions or conditions," the lawsuit says. "The decision taken by the first responded (Minister Pintard) was predetermined by him without regard to the regulation, statutory protocols and provisions of the Immigration Act and the Fishers Resources Jurisdictions and Conservation Act, as it relates to the rights of applicants. The applicants are all employed but unable to work as a result of the decision taken by the first respondent and therefore, they have received damages and they are continuing to suffer damages each day they are not allowed to work on the fishing vessel as a diver."
The Fishing Resources (Jurisdiction and Conservation) Act mandates that no foreign fishing take place in fishing zones of The Bahamas unless authorised. Such provisions do "not apply to the applicants," Mr Smith notes. His clients received compressor permits last year.
At the start of the 2018 crawfish season, Mr Pintard said a new training initiative was being targeted to grow the number of Bahamian divers and reduce reliance on foreign nationals in the field.
"We have sent a stern message to the commercial fishermen that it is our intention to carry out a vigorous recruitment drive for Bahamians to function in the dive industry, to be on these commercial vessels, and we have already come to an agreement with the National Training Agency in principle to train as many Bahamians that are committed to ongoing hard work so they can eliminate the demand that presently exists for divers from other jurisdictions, whether that is from Honduras, the Dominican Republic or Cuba," Mr Pintard said.
However, he noted at the time that while some divers were not Bahamian-born, some of them were permanent residents and that once such a certificate has been issued, his ministry is mandated to review the application for a compressor permit that they submit.