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Fisheries Suffers ‘Rift’ On Non-Bahamian Workers

* Major processors, wholesalers urge Bill halt

* Fear over 1,000 impacted, $8m exports lost

* At odds with fishermen on foreigners bar

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

A fisheries industry “rift” has been exposed over arguments that over 1,000 persons will be hurt, and up to $8m lost, if planned legal reforms stop foreign nationals working on Bahamian-owned boats.

The Coalition For Responsible Fishing (CFRF), a group representing major fisheries wholesalers, processors and exporters, warned that proposed changes to fisheries and Immigration laws preventing foreigners working on locally-owned boats “in any capacity” would result in “the unemployment of hundreds of Bahamians” at a time when the country could least afford it.

The group’s October 25, 2020, position paper, which was signed by the likes of Anthony McKinney, Paradise Fisheries’ principal, and Percy Roberts at Geneva Brass Seafood, warned that more fisheries businesses will fail without “significant amounts of experienced skilled labour” that are presently not available in The Bahamas.

Arguing that trained potters and divers, in particular, were in short supply, the Coalition warned that the ban on expatriate labour proposed under the Fisheries Bill 2020 was counter-productive and could result in the loss of millions of dollars of export-driven foreign currency earnings just when The Bahamas needed every cent it could get following COVID-19’s devastation. Estimating that the survival of 17 New Providence-based vessels alone could be endangered, the Coalition’s paper said that when dependents were added to the 260 total crew who worked on these boats, some 1,040 people could be negatively impacted.

It added that the fall-out would be felt throughout the Bahamian economy given that these vessels did business with companies ranging from Bay Street Garage to the Montague fish stalls through to the likes of Sam’s Refrigeration and Kelly’s Home Centre.

The Coalition’s position stands in direct opposition to that of the National Fisheries Association (NFA), which last week said it fully endorsed a Bill that “represents the will of the majority of law-abiding Bahamian fishermen” and “puts Bahamians first as the stewards and managers of the fisheries sector”.

Paul Maillis, the NFA’s director, yesterday confirmed to Tribune Business that the use of legal expatriate labour - primarily Dominicans possessing either work permits or spousal permits (meaning they are married to Bahamians) - had long caused a “split” between local fishermen on one side and the wholesalers, processors and exporters on the other.

However, the Coalition, saying that it wanted to provide “a different perspective” on the Fisheries Bill, said the planned legislation as it currently stands creates “survival challenges” that will make it difficult for the industry to achieve the expansion in industry output targeted by the Economic Recovery Committee (ERC).

The Committee, in its report to the Government, had set the goal of increasing combined fisheries and agriculture output from $150m to $1.2bn per year within ten years - the equivalent of a leap from the present 1.5 percent of Bahamian gross domestic product (GDP) to 10 percent of GDP.

“The existing fisheries sector has been in decline over the years with several boats and seafood-related businesses failing,” the Coalition’s position paper argued. “In order to sustain what we have, we will need significant amounts of trained manpower (divers, potters) to diversify and grow the economy, similar to most skilled industries in The Bahamas, that lack required expertise.

“Presently that trained workforce, like most major industries, need an injection of experienced skilled labour. Therefore, the proposed changes to the Fisheries/Immigration Act that would exclude non-Bahamians from working on 100 percent-owned Bahamian fishing boats in ‘any capacity’ is not in the best interests of any stakeholders.”

The Coalition’s position paper included the Bahamian public and government among these “stakeholders”. Listing the names of the 16 impacted New Providence-based vessels, it said that should Parliament pass the Bill as is it would result in the “guaranteed failure of a significant number of additional fishing boats”.

Besides the job and foreign exchange export earnings loss, the position paper - which was also signed by Errol Davis of Fish Farmers Ltd and Ronald Lebranche of Los Primos Ltd - argued that the Government would also experience reduced tax revenues while fuel suppliers, dive shops and grocery stores will also take a revenue hit.

Also suggesting that the Bill’s provisions would hit food security, the Coalition said it represented “a violation of the human rights of persons living and working in the Bahamas with permanent residencies (some with 20-plus years) with the right to work, spousal permits and work permits”.

“Without the help of these non- Bahamians it would not make sense to fish, as the operating cost and expenses are too significant to even try,” it added.

“The typical expense to prepare a large commercial boat to go out to sea is approximately $50,000 to $60,000. It requires a break even of at least five thousand pounds of lobster.”

Pointing out that a total of 260 persons worked on the 16 affected boats, split into 180 Bahamians and 80 non-Bahamians, the group argued that 1,040 livelihoods could be at stake based on four dependents per crew member.

“Many of these persons, if not employed on these boats, would otherwise resort to criminal activity,” the Coalition said, suggesting many crew were otherwise “unemployable” due to having criminal records or no formal education.

Breaking down the economic impact from the 16 vessels, the group added that fuel sub-suppliers - three to four small companies that credit diesel and gasoline to the boats - typically received $3m- $4m per year from these vessels and would be “severely impacted” if they stopped operating due to the proposed Bill.

Wholesale grocers were said to earn around $800,000 per season from their activities, while a further $600,000 was generated by credit advances from the fisheries wholesale exporters. Average maintenance and repairs, excluding major jobs, were pegged at around $132,000 per season.

“Catch generated is approximately 500,000 pounds at $13 per pound for a total of $6.5m,” the Coalition said. “This translates into approximately $8m in direct foreign currency earnings from lobster export among the three major export companies in New Providence from these 16 boats.

“Numerous boats sit vacant at Potter’s Cay for a lack of a decent crew,” it added, suggesting that the Fisheries Bill’s blanket prohibition on expatriate labour “is not the solution to growing and diversifying the industry, and will hurt more Bahamians than it helps.

“Any suggestion to the contrary is supported by special interest groups that have no interest, understanding or appreciation of the economics of the industry, and have not suggested a significant enough reason for such an unnecessary act except anecdotal.”

The Coalition said the majority of dive permits issued to locals went to self-employed Family Island residents who had no interest in spending four weeks at sea on large commercial fishing vessels from Nassau.

Telling the Government that it was “time to grow the industry, not shrink it”, the Coalition and its members urged it to drop the proposed Fisheries Act changes and instead work with all stakeholders to develop a “balanced” approach that also involved training and knowledge transfer for Bahamians.

The group added that they had sought to engage the National Training Agency and Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources on developing training programmes to expand the Bahamian labour pool, but this effort had suffered several false starts.

It said it wants to revive this initiative with training in potting for fish, crab and lobster, as well as diving, with the aim of graduating 30 persons per year in each discipline.

Funding, it suggested, could come through the $50m a year that the Government is granting to small businesses as well as the private sector.

Comments

thephoenix562 10 months, 3 weeks ago

Total BS.Bahamian waters/fisheries for Bahamians.Full stop.

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BahamaPundit 10 months, 3 weeks ago

Before, they said they needed foreign workers to do high skilled work. Now, they say Bahamians can't even fish and dive. So, what can Bahamians do? If Bahamians don't believe in Bahamians, who will?

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CFRF 10 months, 3 weeks ago

The Coalition initiated and coordinated the very first effort in 2016 to train young Bahamians to fill the void of the lack of skilled labour in the industry. The program was endorsed by Minister Alfred Gray and the coalition along with Mr. Peter Gilcud, recruited, developed the curriculum and sponsored the training of some 100 young Bahamians. The program included a commitment to pay young interns a daily allowance. This government changed and this program was never fully completed. The Coalition also supported the second efforts in 2019 by the Ministry of Fisheries, working with the NTA to again train young people in the industry, this effort also did not result in producing persons that were considered properly trained. The Coalition has not lost hope and are developing a plan to submit to Government to make this program successful with a slightly different approach. All Bahamian Fishermen that operate the larger boats would admit there is a lack of skilled persons, but none except the Coalition have demonstrated their commitment by actually trying and assisting to recruiting and train young Bahamians in 2016 and 2019. If you are aware of qualified divers/ Fishermen that are available please advise.

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Bahamianbychoice 10 months, 3 weeks ago

Finally.... a group that presents a sensible and realistic approach to actually growing this industry, very similar to that of many other nations who are far more successful at it. Growth will provide much needed employment for Bahamians and an injection of foreign currency into the economy which is so desperately needed. This would be driven internally so not having to depend on an influx of tourists!! So tired of these self interest groups...time to get real about recuing this economy or we all going down!!! A more sophisticated and holistic approach. This was also suggested I believe by the Economic Recovery Committee as well.

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benniesun 10 months, 3 weeks ago

There used to be an oil refinery in FreePort that was basically ran by Bahamians. Is it possible that those Bahamians were born with a natural gift for running that oil refinery, or did they get the proper training to run it? Our local greedy profiteering fisher-folk should engage in nation building instead of pillaging our seas to our detriment. What they are doing can be compared to giving voter cards to non-citizens to win an election not caring about the long term effect of disadvantaging the nation.

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Bahamianbychoice 10 months, 3 weeks ago

"The group added that they had sought to engage the National Training Agency and Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources on developing training programmes to expand the Bahamian labour pool, but this effort had suffered several false starts. It said it wants to revive this initiative with training in potting for fish, crab and lobster, as well as diving, with the aim of graduating 30 persons per year in each discipline."

Looks like they have been trying to Nation Build. I doubt very much that you can just send persons, Bahamian or not, out on commercial boats to dive/pot without some level of proper training.

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realitycheck242 10 months, 3 weeks ago

Just offer the Trainees a stipend and watch the interest from the young people.

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realitycheck242 10 months, 3 weeks ago

The Coalition For Responsible Fishing needs to get real. Set up the training for young Bahamians and graduate a few hundred each year to man the fishing boats. Go into the high schools and recruit young students while offering a payed stipend while traning them. watch the interest and positive results from our young people. That Bahamas is for Bahamians and i support the government with the Ban. Stop looking at your bottom line profits to the detriment of our unemployed youth. The quoted figure of 1,000 persons will be hurt, and up to $8m lost, if planned legal reforms stop foreign nationals working on Bahamian-owned boats is a bunch of BS. I say to the coalition, Where is your patriotism. The same foreigners you now seek to hire are using are techniques detrimental to our reefs while fishing and marrying Bahamian women to circumvent the Law. Not to mention the aggressive behavior of their countrymen towards our Defence force officers. With the right training our young people can pick up the slack

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Bahamianbychoice 10 months, 3 weeks ago

What I find amazing is that the Commercial Boats are 100 percent Bahamian owned. What other business does the government dictate to Bahamian employers who they can hire (given potential employees are either citizens or legal expats) on who they hire. Trained labour pools in anything in this country is small so everyone should work to train and stop being small minded and limited as we are now in desperate times because of this same regressive mind set. Just giving untrained persons stipends is just impractical and unfair to ask of the Bahamian boat owners etc.

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DWW 10 months, 3 weeks ago

you are showing your true colours here. mabye by choice you mean by $?

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Bahamianbychoice 10 months, 3 weeks ago

Actually I think that more applies to your mindset.....are you being left behind in the industry? I am sure some training would help.

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Bobsyeruncle 10 months, 3 weeks ago

One thing that has always amazed me, is how many Bahamians cannot actually swim. For a country of small islands surrounded by water this is truly startling. If the CFRF & NFA do set up a training program, there needs to be a compulsory pre-requisite that candidates are able to meet a certain minimum swimming proficiency before they can be considered for such a training program. Not being able to swim, float, and tread water while working on a boat miles offshore (or even a hundred yards of shore) is only going to have one outcome, and it isn't a pleasant one

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realitycheck242 10 months, 3 weeks ago

The RBDF would gladly conduct a swimming training program. Their are many retired offers who would gladly volunteer their time for the program.

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Amused 10 months, 3 weeks ago

I always said as well build pools in government schools. As big as cv bethel, Doris Johnson, and Anatol Rodgers schools are start there.

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DWW 10 months, 3 weeks ago

A good point, but there are also some incredibly able divers in this country. Perhaps some of the best in the world. check Long Island, Eleuthera, Exuma, Abaco, etc. These Nassau syncophants should look to the better parts of the Bahamas.

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Amused 10 months, 3 weeks ago

Agreed. I'm actually a Padi dive instructor, with numerous certifications under my belt and 18 years experience. Government just doesn't see the worth of their own on a pay scale, and rather pay the foreigner imo.

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themessenger 10 months, 3 weeks ago

Agreed. Give untrained Bahamians a stipend to go to sea spearfishing and conching? You might as well save the time and money and just drown them at Montagu beach.

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DWW 10 months, 3 weeks ago

got to be one of the most conflicted bunch of nonsense i've read in years? This small group of land lubbers want to dictate the entire industry? They say only 260 DR's owkring here (criminals BTW) but they also want the govment (Not themselves) to train 30 bahamians a year. 260/30= 8.6 years you have replaced all the DR's.
Do we really want uncaring criminal DR's and foreign money interests responsible or the COLLAPSE of the fish stocks? I'm going to side with Maillis on this. There are more than enough capable men and women in this country to SUSTAINABLY harvest the seafood in this country. READ any current research on the topic - the world fish stock is in is seroius danger due to chinese fishing every corner of the globe and destroying it. the Bahamas could be in a position to DICTATE THE PRICE of fish when the Bahamas is one of the few places left in the world with seafood to sell. silly shortsighted nonsense right here. These guys are all about making the buck now and tomorrow be damned and doing it all under the pretense that they are stewarding the industry on our behalf. give me a break

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JokeyJack 10 months, 3 weeks ago

"The Committee, in its report to the Government, had set the goal of increasing combined fisheries and agriculture output from $150m to $1.2bn per year within ten years..."

And how does that help us? There is probably a multi-million dollar fishing industry in the Philippines too, but what does that matter to me? How many dollars to I get out of it? Zero. The same here in the Bahamas.

The basic fact is, if you are unfortunate enough to be born in the Bahamas - then God help you (obviously he didn't help you by allowing you to be born here, so hopefully he will start now).

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DWW 10 months, 3 weeks ago

This whole article and issue is simply Nassau syncophants against the Family island blue collar. Am i wrong?

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Bahamianbychoice 10 months, 3 weeks ago

This is a non-sensical argument. Ridiculous mindset that is driving this country to be a failed state. The data supports different and this rhetoric is very much getting old and not in the interest of the Bahamian people, but of a select few. Its past time that new and innovative strategies are embraced so the country and thrive in every sector. We need solutions that are real and not just antidotal.

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DiverBelow 10 months, 3 weeks ago

In most countries The Industry does the training while the Govt. maintains the standards for safety, resource maintenance & legality. Occasionally there is some subsidy for reinforcing an industry. What about aquaculture? Do you know that in the Philippines & China, they raise Groupers, Snappers & multiple of other finfish species? even multiple species of crabs & lobsters? Some in fattening farms (wild caught as young, raised to market size), others from egg to market size. What I see here are industry giants not wanting to invest in their industry, who cant see past their bottom line. The foreign nationals can be a source of education for an industry in transition to improving methodology, resource management & sciences. The world markets are only leaving areas that they have depleted, they will always be hungry & available.

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CFRF 10 months, 3 weeks ago

Actually foreign nationals were proposed to be utilized to transfer knowledge and work ethic in the 2019 program at NTA. The Coalition initiated and coordinated the very first effort in 2016 to train young Bahamians to fill the void of the lack of skilled labour in the industry. The program was endorsed by Minister Alfred Gray and the coalition along with Mr. Peter Gilcud, recruited, developed the curriculum and sponsored the training of some 100 young Bahamians. The program included a commitment to pay young interns a daily allowance. This government changed and this program was never fully completed. The Coalition also supported the second efforts in 2019 by the Ministry of Fisheries, working with the NTA to again train young people in the industry, this effort also did not result in producing persons that were considered properly trained. The Coalition has not lost hope and are developing a plan to submit to Government to make this program successful with a slightly different approach. All Bahamian Fishermen that operate the larger boats would admit there is a lack of skilled persons, but none except the Coalition have demonstrated their commitment by actually trying and assisting to recruiting and train young Bahamians in 2016 and 2019. If you are aware of qualified divers/ Fishermen that are available please advise.

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