By YOURI KEMP
Tribune Business Reporter
Bahamian fishermen yesterday hailed the crackdown on Dominican poaching for helping to raise crawfish prices to $19 per pound and ensure a more plentiful supply.
Keith Carroll, the National Fisheries Association’s (NFA) president, told Tribune Business yesterday that fishermen have this year seen no Dominican poachers in Bahamian waters and little evidence they have been here.
He credited tighter enforcement by the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, and tougher regulation via the Fisheries Act 2020, for helping to ensure the crawfish catch is 50 percent larger than in previous years by deterring foreign poachers.
Mr Carroll said: “I would say that we are probably getting 40 percent to 50 percent more lobster than we did last year, and then out to the southern part of the Great Bahama Bank the divers are saying that they are seeing a lot of groupers now, a lot of hogfish and turbots, and tonnes and tonnes of small lobster.”
But Errol Davis, spokesperson for the Coalition for Responsible Fishing (CFRC), told Tribune Business the increase in crawfish supply has nothing to do with the Fisheries Act coming into force as the new law has been in effect for too short a time to have made any impact.
He added: “The real reason why there is more stock this year is because the Dominican Republic government banned compressors, and has essentially taken more forceful action on Dominican fishermen on their side. This had nothing to do with the Fisheries Act.”
The contentious Fisheries Act 2020 barred all foreign fishermen from working on Bahamian vessels. This was seen as infringing on the rights of Bahamian women married to Dominican fishermen, as it essentially stopped their livelihood and being able to take care of their families. This triggered legal action challenging the Act’s foreign fisherman bar on the basis this was “discriminatory”.
Mr Davis added: “My Dominican fishermen had to find other jobs, and some of them are over the age of 40. Some of them are even 60 years-old now. They have been in The Bahamas for over 30 years some of them. They have no other place to go.
“They have not been fishing and that was their entire livelihood. Our court case has not been called yet. We are just waiting on a court date now so we can put an end to this discrimination.”
Mr Carroll, though, added: “All of our success this year is because we got those Dominicans out of this country.
“August is always the biggest month for divers and then it starts to slow down because they have gathered up all of the crawfish. But now we have the biggest prices that we have ever had, $18 to $19 per pound for crawfish, the highest it has ever been in an August period.”
Last year, crawfish prices averaged $16 per pound for the entire year, up from $12 in 2019. “When prices are set in August, it usually carries for the remainder of the crawfish season,” Mr Carroll said.
Mr Davis added that the price per pound he is paying for crawfish is up to $17, starting off initially at $14 per pound this season.
Mr Carroll, meanwhile, said: “Bahamian fishermen are getting more lobster now because they don’t have to share it with the Dominicans that used to be on the Bahamian boats.
“The Government sent them home so they don’t have to share with them any more. Before that, if there we five shoals, Bahamians used to get three out of every five of them, but now there are five shoals all for Bahamians because it is only us fishing now and no more competition out there from Dominicans on Bahamian fishing boats.”
There never was a Bahamian manpower shortage for divers and fishermen, Mr Carroll asserted, adding: “We always had Bahamian manpower. That rumour that we didn’t came from businessmen who started off in the fishing business but didn’t know anybody to work with them. For someone like me who has been in business all of these years I know exactly who to go to and where to find divers and labour.”