Govt dives in to boost fisheries


Tribune Business Editor


The Government has unveiled measures to boost the $78m crawfish industry, with increased wholesale profit margins and greater Bahamian dive participation among the key targets.

Michael Pintard, minister of agriculture and marine resources, speaking just before the crawfish season's August 1 start, said the government is spearheading a new training initiative that will grow the number of Bahamian divers and reduce reliance on foreign nationals in this profession.

"We have sent a stern message to the commercial fishermen that it is our intention to carry out a vigorous recruitment drive for Bahamians to function in the dive industry, to be on these commercial vessels, and we have already come to an agreement with the National Training Agency in principle to train as many Bahamians that are committed to ongoing hard work so they can eliminate the demand that presently exists for divers from other jurisdictions, whether that is from Honduras, the Dominican Republic or Cuba," Mr Pintard said.

He added that there were some segments in the fishing industry that felt his Ministry should not issue permits for compressors to foreign nationals. Mr Pintard pointed out, however, that while many of these technicians are not Bahamian-born, some of them are permanent residences, and once a permanent residence certificate has been issued by the relevant authority, the individual is able to apply to the ministry for a permit for compressor use. His ministry is mandated to review the application as they would for any individual.

Joining Mr Pintard at the press conference were Phedra Rahming, permanent secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources; Edison Deleveaux, acting director of fisheries; and Gregory Bethel, acting deputy director of fisheries.

Seeking to expand international markets for Bahamian lobster, Mr Deleveaux said this would be supported by the Harvest Control Rule. This speaks to the amount of lobster the government should allow to be exported, in a bid to ensure the resource's sustainability.

The Bahamas Marine Exporters Association, a private sector entity, is driving the initiative with the assistance of the Department of Marine Resources and other non-governmental organisations, including the Nature Conservancy (TNC) and the World Wildlife Fund (WWF).

Mr Deleveaux said the Bahamas' ability to demonstrate that sustainable measures to govern the lobster industry are in place will open up new export markets. He explained that through research and management practices, the Department of Marine Resources can confirm that Bahamian lobsters are being harvested sustainably, which will allow this jurisdiction to be accredited with the Marine Stewardship Council's eco-label.

"In fact, we have surpassed the criteria for that label, which can mean a premium price for the commodity in foreign markets is maintained for our product," Mr Deleveaux said.

Reiterating the government's zero tolerance policy on illegal fishing activities, Mr Pintard said the Department of Marine Resources and the Fisheries Advisory Committee were looking at increasing the penalties for offenders, which will include jail time. The recommendations, which take a broad look at the industry, are expected to go before Cabinet in October.

Mr Pintard said the government expects commercial fishermen to adhere to obey the law as they work - from safe diving practices to ensuring all the correct apparatus is available aboard their vessels.

"We are concerned right now that there are vessels that have left port who have not yet received permission of the government to have their divers use compressors, notwithstanding the fact that they may have applied for a permit to use the apparatus," he added.

The Department of Fisheries also plans pay closer attention to the sports fishing sector to ensure it is not abused. Mr Deleveaux said individuals who hold a sports fishing permit are allowed to take home 10 crawfish. It has been discovered, though, that many of these sports fishermen - who mainly come from the US - are returning home with significantly more catch, and chest freezers filled with lobsters.

While the Government may not be as effective in capturing violators who fall in this category, the US Government has put regulations in place to protect poached items from being brought into their country - in particular conch, the Nassau grouper and crawfish. Called the Lacey Act, offenders face up to five years imprisonment, $50,000 in fines and the confiscation of their vessel if they are found to breach the law.

Mr Deleveaux said the Department of Fisheries will increase its fleet in the northern Bahamas. Officers will be paying more attention to marinas in the northern Bahamas, where foreign boaters are believed to be trading of captured goods for services, which is illegal. The commercial fishing sector is reserved strictly for Bahamian nationals.

Notwithstanding these concerns, the country's fisheries industry continues to grow. Mr Deleveaux said approximately 750 compressor permits have been issued to date, and every year between 1,500 and 2000 permits are issued.

The vast majority, about 98 percent of permit holders, are Bahamian nationals while the remainder are foreign nationals who have been authorised by the Department of Immigration to work in the fishing sector and have met the criteria to be issued with a compressor permit.

Mr Pintard said the average lobster landing over the last five years has been in the vicinity of 5.5 million pounds, with an average value in the vicinity of $61 million per year. "The largest, most profitable component of the fisheries industry landing is lobster. Landings of lobster represent in excess of 90 per cent of the value of the sector - in terms of pounds it's 85 per cent of total fisheries landing," he added.

While these figures show the industry's strength, it was also noted that 2017 proved to be the strongest year to date. Islands in the Northern Bahamas especially, Eleuthera, Long Island, Abaco and Grand Bahama, generated $78 million dollars, with officials expecting 2018/2019 to exceed that average.


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