By SYANN THOMPSON
Tribune Staff Reporter
Bahamas National Trust has applauded the government for presenting a package of environment bills in the House of Assembly on Wednesday, calling them some of "the most significant environmental legislation" to date.
Offenders can be fined up to $30m and jailed up to 10 years when the Environmental Planning and Protection Bill is passed into law.
Yesterday, Bahamas National Trust Executive Director Eric Carey said previous fines given to foreign poachers, for example, have not been a deterrent to keep them from plundering Bahamian territory.
"That fine given to the Dominicans wasn't sufficient. I wouldn't suggest a figure, but I would say our marine resources are critically important to sustaining us as a people. Bahamian fishermen they generally abide by our regulations and there are a lot of restrictions on them in respect to marine protected areas and closed seasons. They get very upset when we have these fines. But when a crew of 15-20 people (foreign poachers) collectively have to come up with several thousand dollars, that's not a deterrent for the people that own these vessels," Mr Carey said.
Last week, 17 Dominicans were fined several thousand dollars for being in possession of 2,943 pounds of marine products; some of them received a custodial sentence between three and nine months. Mr Carey confirmed that some of the crew were repeat offenders, adding some poachers have become accustomed to their cycles of returning to Bahamian waters.
"In the Dominican Republic are wealthy people and paying a fine like that, it's easy for them, they can pay that fine, scrap another vessel together and in three, four, five months. Some of these people will be back in the Bahamas on vessels fishing illegally again. In fact, in this crew arrested recently, there were several repeat offenders. So, if you don't send the message of either giving them significant jail time and significant financial penalties up in the millions, then they're not going to be deterred and they are going to feel it's worth the risk to come to The Bahamas because if we get caught, so what. With one catch, they can easily make back that money," he said.
He also said: "If we can get some of those million-dollar sports fishing vessels confiscated, we need to send a message to abusers of our environment that we are serious about enforcing and that we will apply the penalties of the law we think are needed, to effectively discourage people from breaking our environmental regulations."
Mr Carey also spoke to amendments made in the Bahamas National Trust Bill 2019, saying the changes will allow for several things including greater enforcement of national park rules.
"For example, fines can be issued on the spot for people who are breaking national park laws and we are also pleased that the government passed the Bahamas Protected Areas Fund because this will allow them to sign agreements with the Caribbean Biodiversity Fund to be able to qualify for significant funding for the Bahamas," he said.
The suites of bills introduced to the House of Assembly include the Ministry of the Environment Bill, the Environmental Planning and Protection Bill, the Environmental Protection (Control of Plastic Pollution) Bill, the Bahamas National Trust (Amendment) Bill, the Bahamas Protected Areas Fund (Amendment) Bill and the Tariff (Amendment) (No 2) Bill.