By NEIL HARTNELL
Tribune Business Editor
Bahamian fishermen have hailed the US prosecution of a Florida Keys man for illegally fishing in this nation’s waters as “monumental” in the fight to safeguard the industry’s sustainability and stocks.
Industry participants told Tribune Business that the sentence imposed on Henry Danzig, ordering him to hand over a brand new boat to the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) to aid with fisheries enforcement, will “send a strong message to go-fast fishermen out of Florida” and is something they “have been waiting” decades for.
The case, brought as part of Operation Bahamarama, a joint effort between Bahamian and US law enforcement agencies to crack down on illegal and unreported fishing in Bahamian waters, was described by local fishermen as the only way that this nation can “deter poaching of fisheries stocks on all fronts”.
They added that the illegal exploitation of Bahamian fisheries by US persons had often been ignored or overlooked, which they said stemmed partly from fears that any crackdown would damage the tourism and boating industry on which the country’s marina sector depends.
“This apprehension and prosecution was monumental in the fight against poaching from US nationals,” Paul Maillis, the National Fisheries Association (NFA) director, told this newspaper. “The boat owner was also supplying his restaurant with Bahamian seafood for some time, as the interrogation by Florida Fish & Wildlife revealed.
“In this instance, not only was he over limit, but he had intent to supply in violation of the US Lacey Act. It sends a strong message to these go-fast fishermen out of Florida that the relationship between our states is strong, and conservation efforts on either side of the pond are critical to our mutual interests.”
What is notable about the Danzig case is that while the prosecution and sentencing took place in the south Florida federal courts, the forfeiture will benefit The Bahamas. The major part of the punishment requires him to turn over a new 30-foot Contender Tournament boat, which will be used by the Royal Bahamas Defense Force to combat illegal and unreported fishing.
Danzig, who pled guilty on April 26 to illegally harvesting fish in Bahamian waters without the necessary export and other permits required from this nation, was intercepted at sea by the US Coast Guard on May 9, 2020, on his return from the Cay Sal Bank.
A search of his vessel revealed 167 reef fish, collectively weighing 529 pounds, which had been caught at a time when Bahamian waters were closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Keith Carroll, the NFA president, told Tribune Business that The Bahamas, its fishing industry and stocks have been grappling with the problems created by US citizens who exceed this nation’s catch limits, fish out of season or harvest illegally ever since he entered the sector some 38 years ago.
Suggesting that hundreds of boats were entering The Bahamas’ waters daily to fish in areas such as the Little Bahama Bank, Cat Cay and Bimini, as well as Cay Sal Bank, he said: “I think this is a good thing. It sends a strong message that The Bahamas and the US are working together.....
“I hope that the message gets out and they will think twice about coming this way. It’s a big, big problem. The boats out of south Florida, they come to The Bahamas every day, get lobster, get snapper, and whatever they get they take back. We have this mega yachts that go in and out of the marina, fillet a load of fish, put it in the freezer and take it back to the US.
“I have complaints from fishermen in Long Island, Abaco and all over the place. We have complaints about it all over the place. They take a lot out of here, and have been doing it for years and years.”
Arguing that Danzig’s catch was “a drop in the bucket” compared to what is being illegally removed from The Bahamas’ waters, Mr Carroll added: “We have to send a strong message to US boats that you are welcome to come and snorkel, and enjoy our waters, but leave our fish. If you want to eat in our restaurants do so, but leave our crawfish and conch alone.”
He added that it was vital The Bahamas use the Danzig prosecution and guilty plea to show “we’re not playing, and that this could happen to you - your boat will be confiscated - if you do these things in The Bahamas. I’ve been in fishing, commercial fishing, for 38 years, and have been waiting for this to happen from before I started fishing and up to now”.
Mr Carroll also voiced optimism that the newly-enforced requirement for vessels to clear Customs on their way out of The Bahamas will further help to crackdown on boaters who exceed this nation’s catch limits or are engaged in illegal fisheries harvesting.
“The Government is cracking down on these loopholes that people used to get away with years ago, and in years to come I hope our fisheries stocks get back,” he said. “We see hundreds of boats come here every week, and each goes back with 100 pounds of fish. That’s a lot of fish. That adds up to millions of pounds of fish.”
Mr Maillis, meanwhile, told Tribune Business he felt poaching and illegal fisheries activities by US boats and citizens was often neglected due to the much greater focus placed on Dominicans and others who frequented The Bahamas’ southern waters.
“The impact of illegal poaching by US citizens is often unexamined especially at the leadership level,” he said. “Fears of impacting tourism and marinas, which are the lifeblood of many Family Island communities are often the main reasons behind inaction on our part as a country.
“However, even the legal anglers are given generous bag limits, which are argued by many to be damaging to the sustainability of the commercial fishing sector, as well as many vulnerable species like hogfish, conch and out-of-season lobster.
“The impact of those operating illegally and with impunity can only be magnitudes more destructive,” Mr Maillis added. “It is certainly not only commercial poachers from the Dominican Republic that we must be actively engaged in deterring. Only through creating this web of international enforcement can we hope to deter poaching on all fronts.”
Operation Bahamarama involves the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA); National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS); Office for Law Enforcement (OLE); the US Coast Guard (USCG); and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC).
It is designed to target illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing to and from the waters of the US Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The Royal Bahamas Defence Force’s (BDF) air and marine assets, and intelligence gathering efforts, were described as critical to the Danzig prosecution.
“Information had been received by NOAA special agents regarding Florida-origin IUU fishing in The Bahamas, resulting in enforcement efforts focused on known violators,” the US attorney’s office for the southern district of Florida said in a statement.