By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
A commercial fishing executive yesterday said the compressor ban is undermining the sector just when The Bahamas needs its ability to earn foreign exchange the most.
Errol Davis, of Fish Farmers, and a Coalition For Responsible Fishing (CFRF) member, told Tribune Business that the ban during the lobster off-season was not necessary as most fishermen respect the law and regulations when it comes to crawfish.
Arguing that it was impacting other fishing activities,” Mr Davis said: “Things are very difficult now. It’s four months where we have to basically sit down because, while technically we can fish, we cannot use the compressors for the next four months.
“We are trying to get the minister (Michael Pintard) to make an exception for the use of compressors because a lot of the fishermen have to set their condos in the summer months and in the offseason. They find it very difficult to do so if they don’t have the permission to use the compressors.
“Compressors allow you to be able to breathe underwater. Some people use them to help haul fish in the fishnet, or to harvest conch. The compressors are supposed to be no less than 30 feet. It just allows you to be able to breathe, otherwise you really can’t fish on a commercial level and you can’t produce anything without it.
“I don’t see why it’s a real issue on the prohibition of compressors because the lobster is seasonal anyway. If we go and we fish, we know we cannot get lobsters because it is seasonal.”
The compressor ban coincides with the off-season for lobster fishing between April to July each year. It is ilegal to use any type of underwater air supply for spear fishing or collecting marine life. This includes scuba gear as well as air compressors, unless there is a permit to do so from the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources.
Mr Davis added: “If lobsters are out of season, they are out of season. Even if someone uses a compressor they know they should not touch the lobster out of season. Similarly with grouper. Grouper has a season and, during the lobster season when we are allowed to use the compressors, the grouper season overlaps with the lobster season.
“So there are times when the grouper season is running and you have permission to use the compressor, but we can’t get groupers so fishermen don’t get groupers. If anyone is found with groupers out-of-season they should get prosecuted, but most of the fishermen generally respect the law.”
Turning to the Coalition For Responsible Fishing’s legal challenge to the Fisheries Act 2020, where it is arguing that the bar on foreign fishermen is unconstitutional, Mr Davis said: “We go back to court on June 22 to find out if we will get a ruling on our injunction, but right now it is all up in the air as to what happens.
He added that this matter, together with the restrictions on compressors, has put a damper on an industry that has the potential to bring in much-needed foreign exchange earnings to replace some of what has been lost with tourism’s slow recovery.
Mr Davis said: “It’s rough right now without the workers in place. We just have to see with respect to the workers what will happen. There is already an injustice as we see it, which is unfair, but it’s something you can’t correct overnight.
“A professional fisherman is developed over a number of years, and then not only do you have to have the skill, you also have to have the drive and the stickability and the work ethic. All of these things are necessary because, with the typical large commercial fishing vessel, to even fuel up to get ready to go it can take you up to $60,000 on top of groceries and everything else.
“So you can’t just put anybody on a boat saying that you are going to fish. You may as well park your boat if you don’t have a crew that is able to produce and help you to at least break even.”