By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
THE fisheries industry’s divide over plans to bar foreigners from working on Bahamian-owned boats deepened yesterday as the two sides hit out at the positions each have taken.
The National Fisheries Association (NFA), which represents fishermen, took aim at the position paper presented by the Coalition for Responsible Fishing (CFRF), a group that advocates for the sector’s processors, wholesalers and exporters, arguing that its claims job losses will result from the proposed Fisheries Bill are “absurd”.
The NFA, in a statement, said it had “been fighting this Coalition’ for many years.... They have made the practice of intensive conch harvest commonplace, as well as pioneering the use of thousands of deep ocean fish pots. They have prioritised conch diving year-round and we have seen the stocks plummet as a result. “Their Dominican employees have pioneered the practice of ‘cracking out’ conchs on the sea floor and littering miles of conch grounds with the shells of the dead. A disturbing sight, and a damaging practice to the continued use of that area by conchs. This is not the way conch fishing used to be done, and now we are seeing the impacts.”
But Errol Davis, the Coalition’s official spokesperson, vigorously denied the NFA’s claims when contacted by Tribune Business. He said its members were unaware of the “conch-cracking” allegations, adding that the Dominican fishermen being targeted by the NFA have been in The Bahamas for years - some of whom have permanent residency.
Mr Davis added that no commercial fishing vessel leaves conchs on the seabed, and they instead find a designated area to leave the conch shells. “No one takes conchs back to land,” he said.
The row between the two sides erupted after the Coalition published a report opposing recently-tabled Bills in parliament that seek to make the employment of non-Bahamians in the fisheries sector illegal.
The Coalition argued that over 1,000 people would be hurt by this move, adding that the ratio of Bahamian to non-Bahamian workers in the sector is just over 2:1 and that it would be Bahamian families that would suffer more if these foreign workers are not allow to harvest seafood.
However, the NFA blasted back: “They do not care about the long-term survival of the industry, only their profits and the ability to sit back and reap the rewards. “They have no basis for the absurd claim that 1,000 Bahamians will lose their jobs as nearly every business they cited as being dependent on fisheries are supported by fishing companies that are fully owned and operated by Bahamians. “We are in an era of COVID, with mass unemployment, and they are concerned about hiring more foreigners? Hire Bahamians and invest in Bahamian labour. You cannot run businesses that lower wages, and undercut Bahamian labour, then claim to be supporting Bahamians.”
Mr Davis, though, argued that the NFA “doesn’t understand how this business works”.
He added that in addition to those directly employed, during the peak season large vessels take even more Bahamians out to sea to help with the harvest. As a result, he suggested the 1,000 jobs being at risk is a very conservative number.