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‘Endless battle with criminals’ of the sea

• Fisherman says ‘dishonourable’ minority hurting sector

• As industry grapples with ‘drastic’ 50% lobster price fall

• Multiple reports feature spearing, poaching and pot theft

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Bahamian fishermen are facing “an endless battle with criminals” poaching and stealing with impunity amid fears crawfish prices have plunged by up to 50 percent compared to 2021’s “amazing” highs.

Paul Maillis, the National Fisheries Association’s (NFA) secretary, told Tribune Business that with lobster season less than one month old he has already received multiple reports from fishermen throughout The Bahamas that their condos and traps have been “speared” by poachers during the closed period.

Revealing that he, too, had been a victim after rival fishermen “stole my fishing pot from under my nose”, he called for a shift in attitude and mentality among the “dishonourable” minority in the sector who fail to “value people’s hard work” and instead exploit it for their own financial gain.

Besides this threat, Mr Maillis told this newspaper fishermen are fearful over early-season indications that there has been “a pretty drastic change” in lobster prices compared to 2021. Last year saw the industry achieve $20-$21 per pound for its catch, but the NFA secretary disclosed he has received reports that some fishermen are presently getting “as low as $8-$10”.

As a result, he added that some larger fishing vessels had determined it was “not worth going out for lobster right now” given that lower prices were simply worsening the financial squeeze imposed on the sector by still-high gasoline and diesel prices.

However, Keith Carroll, the Bahamas Commercial Fishers Alliance’s (BCFA) vice-president, told Tribune Business that while lobster prices have fallen “tremendously” it was too early to determine if this was a trend that will be sustained for the entire season. He added that the industry will have a better read of the situation in another week to two weeks, when several larger fishing vessels are due to return to port.

“I know the price went down tremendously, but it has still not settled,” Mr Carroll explained. “Right now it’s at $12 a pound. This time last year it was probably at $16 a pound. The price is not really decided until probably the first or second week in September - another week to ten days - and then we’ll have an idea of what it will be for the rest of the season.”

Mr Maillis, though, disclosed that crawfish prices are far from the only challenge faced by Bahamian fishermen. “It’s an endless battle with criminals out here,” he told Tribune Business. “People want to poach out of season. It’s outrageous. There’s a need for our country to have a cultural switch.

“Another fisherman stole my fish pot from under my face. I was a quarter of a mile away. They anchored above our fish pot, my boat was too slow and they outran me. They knew it was our fish pot. They saw the buoy, knew we were working the area, and stole it from under our face.

“There’s a lot of fishermen that take advantage of the sea. There’s no law enforcement out here, and they don’t place value on other people’s hard work. They see opportunities and they take them. That’s what we deal with in the fishing industry; a lot of dishonourable people.”

Mr Maillis said he was far from alone in having his livelihood impacted by rogue operators and poachers. “It’s very evident listening to the testimony from fishermen down south, like myself who set condos and expect to get a good catch from August 1, that many of their traps have been speared,” he revealed. 

“I had a report from a Long Island fisherman, and it looked like all their traps have been speared by poachers. The reefs and cracks [in the rocks] as well looked like poaches had recently been through the area. And, further up north, it looked like a lot of lobster spearing had taken place over the summer. They are reporting their condos have been speared as well.

“There were a lot of fishermen waiting to access their traps, and when August 1 came there were a lot of heads lying around, and a lot of areas that shouldn’t have been empty were empty. It’s not as if there’s been a consistent downward trend in lobster. Last year was an amazing year for fishermen, and we experience a similar - maybe a slightly decreased - catch.”

Mr Maillis’ comments will likely spark renewed concerns about poaching and illegal lobster harvesting in the closed season, which lasts for four months from April 1 every year, and the impact this has on the long-term sustainability and conservation of crawfish and other key fisheries species. A successful lobster season is especially vital for many Family Island fishing communities which rely heavily on the sector for their economic well-being.

That is also heavily linked to catch volume and the price obtained for lobster from fisheries processors and exporters. “Right now, the big issue is the price of lobster at the moment in the market,” Mr Maillis told Tribune Business. “Last year fishermen experienced anywhere from $20 and up per pound of lobster tails. In some places it was $18; anywhere from $18 to $20 per pound.

“This year I’ve heard some reports that fishermen are getting as low as $8-$10 a pound. That’s a pretty drastic change from last year to this year. You’ve got some larger fishermen saying it’s not worth going out for lobster because the price of fuel is so much higher than it used to be and lobster prices have been cut in half; they’re going to wait for something to change. Fishermen made investments coming off last year’s boom, and now it has come crashing down.”

The NFA secretary said global indices showed lobster prices were down against 2021 levels, with the decline hitting a Bahamian fishing industry still grappling with high fuel costs despite a modest easing of global oil prices in recent weeks. “Diesel is upwards of $6.80 per gallon. At one point earlier this year it was near $7 a gallon,” he added.

“It’s come down a little bit but is still very high, and for fishermen taking on hundreds to thousands of gallons a trip the price differential is enormous. A couple of years ago it was at $4 per gallon, and now it’s at $7 per gallon, so it’s unmanageable. Gas is the same. To be hit with higher costs and lower prices, there’s a lot of fishermen who have held off this August from going out for lobster.”

Mr Maillis suggested that lower lobster prices might be the result of reduced demand for a commodity that typically generates between $60m-$80m of The Bahamas’ annual export earnings. Pointing to fears of a recession in the US and other major economies, which are all hiking interest rates to combat inflation, he added that increased supply may be another factor in play.

“Markets like South Africa and Australia are coming back into the system,” Mr Maillis added. “For a long time during the pandemic those markets were shut down because of COVID-19 restrictions while The Bahamas kept operating, and we could be seeing too much supply in the market right now. That’s speculation. The only thing we know for a fact is prices are low. Hopefully they go up. Everybody is trying to get the best they can from the same resources.”

Comments

Porcupine 1 year, 9 months ago

A good synopsis of our society, in general. A few bad apples spoil it for everyone. Our politicians are the worst. Who, honestly, can say otherwise? The rot started at the head and now our whole country seems mired in theft, dishonesty and greed. But, maybe I have it all wrong.

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Baha10 1 year, 9 months ago

Perhaps an even bigger concern should be that years of over fishing through the unregulated use of non-natural Condos and failure to protect the larger breeding Crawfish has finally collapsed the species?!?

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ScubaSteve 1 year, 9 months ago

We are a country of many, many islands and many of our citizens rely on the sea to provide food and employment. How is it possible and why is it a reality that we don't have more boats and more ships to patrol our waters? Isn't it just common sense that we should have a substantially larger Navy and Coast Guard? Several easy and quick benefits -- it would provide more jobs to our young adults, they can spend more time on the open sea & visit other Bahaman islands, they can learn more about the ocean and boating, they could help keep the borders more secure, and more importantly they could help prevent this type of poaching and theft. What is so hard to figure out? Does anyone in our Govt have an education beyond the 5th grade?????????

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JokeyJack 1 year, 9 months ago

Did the article say "Bahamian" fishermen ???? Bahamian? Well that's the problem. Bahamians don't count in this country. They are third class dogs that the government can easily ignore and cast aside without any fear whatsoever of losing their vote. They will vote FNM or PLP even if the government literally shot their children dead with a gun in front of their faces. Their loyalty is infinite.

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