DAYS before the start of the crawfishing season, two opposition members have urged government to toughen laws against foreign poachers.
Poachers, particularly those from the Dominican Republic, routinely encroach on Bahamian fishing grounds and threaten the important industry said Ryan Pinder, Progressive Liberal Party member of parliament for Elizabeth, and fisherman Clay Sweeting, the PLP's candidate for North Eleuthera.
The men renewed their call for a special marine protection division in the Royal Bahamas Defence Force to focus on warding off foreign poachers. The pair also asked for government to expand current criminal laws against poachers with stiff jail terms imposed for those found fishing off season.
"The illegal poaching has put at risk our entire marine resources as the illegal fishing is done without regard to species, maturity or sustainability of the catch. Entire areas are wiped out by the illegal poachers. We need to be serious about protecting this fragile industry so Bahamian fishermen can have a future in it. The PLP believes in taking whatever enforcement necessary, no matter how strict the penalty, to preserve fishing in Bahamian waters for Bahamians.
"We call on the government to ensure the implementation of policies and laws that will be a real deterrent, and not just a slap on the wrist. Jail time should be imposed, especially if poachers are caught fishing in the off season, when the crawfish spawn," said a joint statement issued by the men yesterday.
When contacted for comment, Abner Pinder, former chief councillor of the fishing community Spanish Wells, agreed that many in the industry want to see harsher penalties for poachers.
"The fisherman here want tougher laws, definitely they would like to see the fines increased - doubled at least," he said yesterday.
While captains of the poaching vessels are often given steep fines once charged and convicted, crew members are only required to pay a few hundred dollars, he said.
This does little to deter fisherman from countries with barren fishing grounds from seeking precious resources from the Bahamas, he added.
"They have no fishing grounds, they have killed their fishing grounds so they are going to keep trying to come here to make a living".
Last week, 61 Dominican poachers pled guilty to charges of illegal fishing in Bahamian waters, possession of prohibited spear guns, possession of prohibited air compressors, possession of groupers weighing under three pounds and possession of crawfish during the closed season.
Nine of the eleven crewmen aboard the vessel Lil Lamb were ordered to pay a fine of $500 or spend six months in prison while the captain was sentenced to pay a $50,000 fine or spend one year in prison.
The Dominican crewmen found aboard a second vessel, Don Emmy, were given the same sentence as their counterparts, however the captain's fine in this case was $25,000.
The vessels, catch and everything else found onboard were ordered seized.
Source: The Tribune
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