By TANYA SMITH-CARTWRIGHT
A BAHAMIAN seafood businessman fears the government’s new Fisheries Bill will hamper his business and lead to a loss of critical staff.
Meanwhile, Bahamian women married to foreign fishermen are also enraged at the bill, which they say disenfranchises their spouses and will put a financial strain on their households.
The Fisheries Bill 2020, which will replace the Fisheries Resources (Jurisdiction and Conservation) Act, 1977, was passed in the Senate yesterday.
A key provision of the bill says: “No person shall engage in fishing, or be employed on a commercial fishing vessel for fishing other than sport fishing in the fisheries waters; and use or be employed on a commercial fishing vessel licenced under this act for fishing other than charter sport fishing, unless that person is a citizen of The Bahamas.”
Critics, including former Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest and former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham, have called this clause discriminatory.
Percy Roberts, proprietor of Geneva Brass Seafoods, said: “All of my (boat) workers are Dominicans on work permits. So I pay the government over $60,000 in work permits per year for ten divers and two mechanics.
“I don’t mind if I could find divers locally. I would be happy to hire local divers, but I cannot find them locally. I would not have to pay all that in work permits. The government is not doing what it ought to be doing and I really am ashamed of that because I supported this government from I was a very young boy. That’s all my family knew; FNM! (Minister of Agriculture) Michael Pintard, he wouldn’t even consider to answer my notes. He doesn’t even check.”
Besides having to deal with the imminent loss of key staff, Mr Roberts pointed out that the government does not push local businessmen in the fishing industry enough.
He said the government should urge mega resorts to diversify where they buy their local seafood from, claiming the major properties buy from one major supplier.
“If I package and send my crawfish to America, it is of the same standard or better than what is found in (that particular company). Same thing as my grouper. Not only that, but it is also cheaper. The Bahamian tax dollar supports these hotels. What about the smaller businesses in the fishing industry? This bill is blatantly biased and blatantly unfair. Right now I am hurting. It’s going to cause a lot of problems for me and my staff.”
Meanwhile Maria Morazan and Malvina Wallace-Calzeron, both wives of Honduran fishermen, say the proposed law change is discriminatory against their foreign husbands, who work legally in this country.
Mrs Morazan said: “It is going to really change things for us. My husband is a working man. He is already used to working. I work for the government, but for him, he is a person who is used to working. We are used to him going out, working and supporting his family. He has permanent residency here so I don’t know exactly what they are going to do with that document. I don’t know what he is going to do. We are going to try and see if the government will listen to us.
“He feels really bad about it because God made man the head of the house to provide for their families. So our law is unfair, because if you married a foreigner, it’s like they have no rights. Our husbands should have the right to choose wherever they want to work.”
Mrs Morazan said her husband has paid for his residency and she feels the law is unbalanced and obviously not in his favour.
Mrs Wallace-Calzeron’s husband is here on a work permit. She said she is willing to do whatever it takes for the authorities to hear his plight. She said: “If I have to march the Commonwealth of The Bahamas barefoot to support my husband, I would do it. I am behind my husband 110 percent to try whatever I could for them to reverse this bill because I don’t think they are being fair to the non-Bahamians or us. It’s like being a Bahamian woman with no rights to vote.
“I am an unemployed wife and I look for my husband to support me so this will really affect me. My husband is a man who was fishing from he was 13 years old.
“If you look at it, he was practically born on the sea. It would really affect me, dearly. And, other than it affecting me, my husband’s family depends on him. My husband has a twin brother who is paralysed; he supports him. He also supports the children his twin has. He has other children himself and he also takes care of his mother.”
Fred Mitchell, chairman of the opposition Progressive Liberal Party, has vowed to have the bill “tweaked in the public’s interest” if that party becomes government after the 2022 general election.