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Gov’T Told: ‘Rubber Stamp’ Fish Poaching Crackdown

• Association urges ‘action now’ for sustainability

• Director says new Gov’t must see effort through

• Brands initiative ‘revolutionary’ with US tie-up

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The Davis administration was yesterday urged to “endorse and rubber stamp” the international initiative to stamp out fisheries poaching in Bahamian waters, as one fisherman warned: “We must take action now”.

Paul Maillis, the National Fisheries Association (NFA) director, told Tribune Business it was important that the new government realise the progress and objectives of the Marine Action Partnership (MAP) so that such initiatives were not “terminated through lack of understanding”.

Expressing the NFA and wider industry’s desire to work with the new government and Clay Sweeting, minister of agriculture, marine resources and Family Island affairs, he added that it simply needed to support the MAP and see it through to full “fruition” given the results it had already achieved.

The initiative, which involves all Bahamian law enforcement agencies working with US counterparts such as Florida Fish and Wildlife, earlier this year helped secure the conviction and sentence imposed by the south Florida federal courts on Henry Danzig, ordering him to hand over a brand new boat to the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) after being caught fishing illegally in this nation’s waters.

With rampant poaching and illegal fishing in Bahamian waters thought to have depleted fisheries stocks to levels where their sustainability is endangered, Mr Maillis said: “We want the Government to endorse and bring to fruition the Marine Action Partnership. This is a multi-agency law enforcement partnership to tackle illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.

“It involves the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, Royal Bahamas Police Force, Customs and Immigration, all our law enforcement bodies, coupled with our international partners such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC), in tracking down and stopping large-scale illegal fishing operations.

“It’s a revolutionary, comprehensive plan that has been developed over the past three years. It’s been solidified into an action plan that has details in how it is to be applied, and has support from all the parties in law enforcement. We’re excited to see it implemented and brought into full effect.”

The Danzig case was seen as sending a strong deterrent message to “go-fast fishermen” based in Florida who fish illegally in Bahamian waters. The guilty party was also selling fish caught in The Bahamas through his restaurant, in violation of the US Lacey Act.

A striking feature of the case was that, while the prosecution and sentencing took place in Florida, the forfeiture will benefit The Bahamas. The major part of the punishment required Danzig 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.

Mr Sweeting could not be reached for comment before press time last night but, asked what the Bahamian fisheries industry wanted from the new government in relation to the MAP, Mr Maillis replied: “All they really need to do is rubber stamp it because it’s in progress. It’s a go. We’re using actionable intelligence from the Canadian and US governments, and are getting a lot of support from international partners.

“They need to listen to the existing people on the ground, understand the facts on the ground and move accordingly so we don’t have projects that are positive terminated through lack of understanding.”

Mr Maillis said the MAP had already made the US agencies involved “much more sensitive to our issues regarding illegal poaching”, while their Bahamian counterparts were “eager to see their own gaps filled” when it came to combating illegal poaching.

“It’s been very powerful to see how these issues have been addressed, and the willingness of our law enforcement agencies to address the deficiencies in our capacity to deal with fisheries offences,” he added. “The MAP has better information sharing, and proper intelligence sharing in a safe and secure way that is going to the right people so that fisheries crimes can be investigated beyond sportsfishing.”

Mr Maillis said the intent was to “go deeper” and crack down on international criminal rings that “involve more than just the boat”. He added that fisheries crimes were often linked to more serious offences, such as human, narcotics and weapons trafficking.

Such crimes often “take away attention from fisheries” related offences because the latter are often “viewed as low priority”. Mr Maillis added: “We have all these agreements with the US to combat human smuggling, weapons smuggling, but they do not mention fishing specifically.

“We have interpreted and brought meaning to fisheries offences in these agreements, and used US legislation - the Lacey Act - against parties in the US for breaking our laws. We’re bringing awareness to multiple countries and agencies about how to tackle illegal fishing. The MAP is a strategic plan, a plan of action and pushes things to law enforcement status in the fisheries sector.”

Arguing that it was becoming ever-more urgent to clamp down on illegal poaching in The Bahamas, the NFA director told this newspaper: “In this day and age, when there is so much concern about making natural resources available to Bahamian citizens, it’s more important than ever to have tighter controls over our fisheries resources and where they are going.

“We have to be more concerned about fisheries conservation than ever before. Stocks are struggling, and they cannot sustain the pressure from poachers and our local fishermen. It’s important to take action now, follow through and support law enforcement.”

Asserting that the NFA is “committed to advancing the fisheries industry of The Bahamas and making it sustainable for generations to come”, Mr Maillis said the Association also wanted the administration to maintain the position of commercial fishing being reserved for Bahamians only.

Acknowledging that both the Prime Minister and Mr Sweeting had committed to just such a stance while in opposition, he added that the NFA was totally opposed to placing access to Bahamian fisheries and waters on “the bargaining table” when trade deals with other nations are being negotiated.

The Danzig prosecution was said, from the US perspective, to be part of Operation Bahamarama which involves the 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 case.

“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.

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