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BNT fears message sent over poaching-accused uncertainty

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VESSEL in the Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park that was suspected of poaching.

• Police will not confirm fate of suspects ‘caught red handed’

• Trust chief: May show Bahamas ‘not serious’ on resources

• Admits ‘missteps’ after vessel attempted to flee Bahamas

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

The Bahamas National Trust’s (BNT) executive director last night voiced fears that suspected fisheries poachers “caught red handed” in the Exumas may be allowed to leave this nation without being charged.

Eric Carey, its executive director, told Tribune Business that The Bahamas may signal it is “not serious about protecting our natural resources” after police in Grand Bahama refused to confirm the outcome of their investigation and if the alleged poachers are free to leave this nation’s waters.

Recalling events since the BNT’s Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park team intercepted the suspect vessel, which had spiny crawfish (lobster) on board despite the season’s start being almost a month away, he said its officials simply do not know how the Royal Bahamas Police Force plans to proceed.

“The police in Grand Bahama have not confirmed to our team if those people have been released pending further investigation, possibly charged or they have decided not to charge them,” Mr Carey told this newspaper. “This has been our question all day.

“They told us at midnight last night they were releasing them, and they were going to their boat at any time. We watched their boat, and they left the dock this [yesterday] morning in Grand Bahama. We did not engage them.” Mr Carey added that the BNT and its officers will be “very, very disappointed” if the alleged poachers have been clearance to leave The Bahamas “because these people were caught red handed”.

The BNT, in a statement, said its search of the suspect vessel found an egg-bearing female lobster caught before the crawfish season opens officially on August 1. Those on board were informed of their potential violations and taken to Warderick Wells for further questioning and processing.

Given that it was almost dark, the BNT officials decided against transporting the poaching suspects to Nassau due to safety concerns. With no lock-up or detention facility available, the alleged poachers were allowed to return to their vessel and told the case would be further dealt with the following morning.

Mr Carey said they were given “a stern warning” that if they tired to flee The Bahamas they would be pursued under the US Lacey Act, which targets Americans who violate other countries’ wildlife laws, and imposes harsher fines and penalties than those found in The Bahamas. While BNT officials thought this would be sufficient deterrent against the vessel fleeing, that was exactly what the poaching suspects sought to do by leaving the Exumas at 5am next morning.

The BNT, in response, contacted the newly-formed Bahamas Wildlife Enforcement Network (BahWEN), the multi-agency body formed to protect the country’s natural resources. The US Coast Guard and Bahamian authorities were informed, social media alerts seeking the alleged poaching vessel’s whereabouts were issued, and it was eventually located four miles off Grand Bahama where the suspects were advised by the BNT to hand themselves into the police.

“We’re hoping that the police are still considering and will arrest the people,” Mr Carey told Tribune Business. “We only hope they didn’t tell them to leave the country or are free to go. We’re hoping. We believe in the system.

“We’re hoping tomorrow [today] or the day after they will finish their investigation and pull them back in, charge them and give them their day in court. And, if convicted, they are given fines and penalties to demonstrate we are serious about protecting out natural resources.

“If that doesn’t happen, we send a very clear message to people interested in poaching in our national parks and protected areas that, if we catch you red handed with lobster out-of-season in the national park, catch you bang to rights, you will probably be OK. That’s not the message we want to send out internationally or to anyone using the parks.”

Mr Carey said such an outcome will also be contrary to the Prime Minister’s “passionate” international addresses on climate change, as it would suggest The Bahamas is “not serious about protecting its ecosystems”. It also undermines The Bahamas’ focus on developing the so-called ‘Blue Economy’ and carbon credits.

The BNT chief added that its Exuma team had put significant effort into documenting, securing and transporting the evidence against the alleged poachers, accompanying it when it was transported to Nassau and then Grand Bahama. 

“It’s disappointing time and time again to see these park violations go undisciplined, and this is why we must call on the police and the courts to see these instances through by imposing fines and repercussions as allowed for in the BNT Act. By not issuing fines to poachers and others who violate park regulations, we feel this sends the wrong message and will encourage poaching in the future,” Mr Carey added, acknowledging “missteps” over the suspects’ detention.

“The point must be made that we take these offences to our natural resources very seriously. We must also urge all visitors to do their part - not only to respect the park rules and regulations - but to also report any instances of illegal activity that they observe in parks. The Exuma Cays Land and Sea Park is a very special place - the oldest land and sea park in the world - and we owe it to ourselves to protect this amazing resource and give it the respect that it deserves.”

Asserting that “a strong example” must be set to deter poaching and other illegal activities, the BNT added that it has been working with the Attorney General’s Office to finalise the Bylaws for all national parks. These will give its wardens more authority in national parks and allow them to immediately issue fixed penalties on the spot for violations.

BNT wardens can collect the fines for forwarding on to the Government, without having to go through other authorities for prosecution. On July 4, three days after the Exuma incident, the BNT was notified that the bylaws were officially gazetted into Bahamian law.

Comments

Sickened 1 year, 9 months ago

I knew they had Chinese passports.

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Sickened 1 year, 9 months ago

Don't let a Bahamian nigga get catch! He'll be beaten half to death and then raped of all his earthly belongings.

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tribanon 1 year, 9 months ago

Eric Carey gets all excited everytime he hears of a U.S. flagged vessel anywhere in our national sea parks. Meantime those really big time Dominican poachers have much bigger boats, operate large scale fishing operations in our much deeper waters, usually don't get caught and for decades now have been depleting our territorial waters of all sea life.

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Dawes 1 year, 9 months ago

Yet again our useless enforcement of the laws will continue the downward spiral. If they don't get charged i am sure they will be a couple marlins lighter.

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regrolli 1 year, 9 months ago

Collectively, there are few worse when it comes to protecting Bahamian resources and respecting environmental regulations than Bahamians themselves.

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Baha10 1 year, 9 months ago

Caught in a National Park with Female Breeding Crawfish out of Season … and then evading Authorities … if ever there was an “open and shut” case, this would appear to be it … let us see how well our Police Department coordinates with the Attorney General’s Department to prosecute … and then how seriousness our Courts are about enforcing our Laws and protecting our natural resources … I recall “Bahamians” losing their Boats over undersized Crawfish “in” Season, so at the very least the same has to happen here as a bare minimum, otherwise we really are a joke of a Country and we might as well all start spearing Crawfish tomorrow, as continuing to adhere to August 1st as the start of the Season is clearly only giving others an advantage to harvest with impunity.

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Engineer 1 year, 9 months ago

Where is this vessel right now?

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DiverBelow 1 year, 9 months ago

POACHING IS POACHING, wether for personal consumption or profit. Taking egg bearing females is wrong/illegal in both US & The Bahamas, there is no excuse for ignorance of policy; nor knowledge of location within the Park, particularlywith todays electronics even a cellphone!! Cruising vessels are guest in another's country and must be responsible guest as we demand in our own home. But when a guest sees bad behavior & laxness by the same occupants, they will imitate. In regards to natural resources, the impact of volumes of contraband is critical to response of authority. I.e.: Dominican commercial fisher poachers should LOOSE ALL AS THAT IS PIRACY, compared to a cruising vessel catching dinner. PENALTIES SHOULD REFLECT THE GRAVITY OF THE ACTION.

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