By NICO SCAVELLA
Tribune Staff Reporter
MORE than 30 Bahamian fisherman have denied allegations they were caught fishing in the Cay Sal Bank area with prohibited fishing apparatus last month.
The 34 fishermen, ranging in age from 19 to 72, all entered not guilty pleas before senior magistrate Carolyn Vogt-Evans on Friday to the two fisheries violations they are accused of committing on June 30.
The fishermen, who make up the crew of the Bahamian vessel Sweet Dreams, were each charged with two counts of possession of a prohibited apparatus. The charges are contrary to section 69 (a)(b)(c) and (d), and section 73 of the Fisheries Resources (Jurisdiction and Conservation) Regulations, 1987.
According to the regulations, a prohibited apparatus is any device, other than a snorkel, that enables a person to breathe whilst underwater.
The former charge asserts that on the date in question, they had one air compressor in their possession with intent to use it for fishing. The latter charge further specifies that they were found in the Cay Sal bank with an air compressor without a permit authorizing its use contrary to the authorized dates of August 1, 2019 to March 31, 2020.
According to reports from the Royal Bahamas Defense Force (RBDF), HMBS Rolly Gray, under the command of Senior Lieutenant William Sturrup, was on routine patrol when it apprehended Sweet Dreams in the Cay Sal Bank area. A large quantity of conch and a compressor were on board at the time.
Skiffs belonging to the vessel were also in the immediate area with compressors on board, according to the RBDF. Additionally, a search of a nearby cay resulted in the discovery of several more compressors.
The vessel and its crew were subsequently arrested and taken to New Providence, where they were turned over to the relevant authorities.
During Friday’s arraignment, and after the 34 men had pleaded not guilty, their attorney Joseph D’Arceuil petitioned the court to dismiss the latter of the two charges against his clients and have it removed from the docket.
Mr D’Arceuil argued that section 73 of the regulations does not specifically provide for a charge. Rather, he said, it merely gives the minister the authority to authorise the use of an air compressor upon payment of a prescribed fee.
Section 73 reads: “A person desirous of using during the period 1st August to 31st March a prohibited apparatus that is commonly known as an air compressor at a depth of not less than thirty feet nor more than sixty feet, may make application to the Minister in Form 3 in the First Schedule for a permit authorising such use and upon the issue thereof the prescribed fee shall be payable.”
Mr D’Arceuil said the charge in question is “redundant” and doesn’t provide for a penalty. He said if the prosecution relies on that section, it would mean that his clients are actually being charged with not making an application.
Mr D’Arceuil added that the charges against his clients do not make Sweet Dreams liable for forfeiture. To that end, he relied on section 20 of the Fisheries Act, which he said mandates that the only vessels liable for forfeiture are foreign vessels. Conversely, he said, Sweet Dreams is a licensed Bahamian vessel.
Mr D’Arceuil further relied on section 14(2) of the Fisheries Act to support his contention that Sweet Dreams is not liable to forfeiture. That section reads: “A fisheries inspector may at any time without summons, warrant or other process seize and detain any vessel or thing which is liable to forfeiture under this Act or which he has reasonable grounds to believe is so liable.”
Mr D’Arceuil asked the court to order the vessel to be released to its owner, Jeffrey Jolly, Sr.
Mr D’Arceuil said that there is no evidentiary value in holding the vessel, which is being kept at the RBDF base in Coral Harbour, nor the fisheries that were found on board. He asked that the vessel and the fisheries be released to their “rightful owner”.
Magistrate Vogt-Evans adjourned the matter to July 24 to give the prosecution time to respond to Mr D’Arceuil’s submissions.
She ordered that the 34 accused men, who were granted $5,000 police bail, have their bail extended until that time.