By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
A prominent fisherman yesterday urged the authorities to “crack down on clandestine fishing boats coming out of Florida” as these were inflicting havoc similar to that of Dominican poachers.
Paul Maillis, the National Fisheries Association (NFA) director, told Tribune Business he and his fellow members were “excited” by the willingness of the US Coast Guard to partner with The Bahamas and other nations in the fight against illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing and the threat it poses to this nation’s fishing stocks.
“What we have to start cracking down on is the clandestine fishing operations coming out of Florida,” he told this newspaper. “They’re disguised as charter vessels and tourist vessels. They also cause great problems for commercial fishermen in this country; if not greater, then certainly equal to the damage caused by fishermen from the south, the Dominican Republic.
“We a lot of help policing the Florida straits.... It’s [poaching] definitely at the level it always has been, especially with these clandestine commercial fishermen operating out of Florida. The Defence Force has done a great job on deterring Dominican poachers from the south, increasing their surveillance and improving their tactics and intelligence.
“They’ve captured a lot of those vessels, and the fishermen down south have noticed a great improvement in the fisheries stock,” Mr Maillis added. “But because of the innocent-looking vessels from the north, it’s difficult to tell one from the other unless you board them and scrutinise their yachts and catch.
“These are nice-looking people, fancy yachts, and law enforcement is generally reluctant to intercept vessels looking like that. Everyone participating in our country has to understand and respect our laws and regulations.”
Mr Maillis warned that failure to enforce the existing fisheries laws and regulations will only result in widespread non-compliance, and he urged Bahamian marinas to fulfill their obligations by adopting a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to clients who broke them rather than look the other way.
Warning against any “cover ups” so that marina guests are “not frightened off”, he urged that industry: “Teach them to respect the laws of our country, and if there are breaches report that.” Mr Maillis also urged central and local government officials not to attempt to interfere with efforts by park wardens and fisheries officials to enforce the laws.
“We need compliance at all these levels of law enforcement and we will see great results,” he said. “We have to safeguard our resources. Poaching has impacted lobster, spear fishing and pelagic fish.”
Mr Maillis spoke out after vice-admiral Steven Poulin, of the US Coast Guard, said last week: “IUU fishing undermines coastal state sovereignty. It undermines the rule of law and it erodes maritime governance. It jeopardises food security and economic prosperity for more than 3.3bn people who rely on fish as a primary source of protein.
“It creates an unlevel playing field for those who are engaged in lawful fishing. I note that more than $400bn in lost revenue results from IUU fishing and it puts fish stocks at risk so this is an economic, a maritime governance and an environmental crisis.”
Asked about officials’ plans to assist small island developing states in the Caribbean to tackle the issue, vice-admiral Poulin replied: “We have a number of existing bilateral agreements with many of the Caribbean nations and one of the things we’re doing is looking at how we might expand some of those agreements to include IUU fishing.
“The agreements that we have provide a strong baseline for us to continue to work with these nations to expand maritime domain awareness which is so vital to understanding the nature of the problem in the Caribbean.
“We often have Coast Guard Cutters and maritime control craft in the area because of our counter-drug efforts, and in that context our counter-drug efforts can help us understand patterns and trends of all kinds of maritime conveyances and that’s one of the ways we are expanding our awareness of IUU fishing in different parts of the hemisphere is to use our Coast Guard assets that are already down there on patrol to not only leverage their capabilities for the counter drug threat but also all threats to the region.”