BCFA urges end to poaching
Rampant poaching, unsecured borders and the lack of proper licensing are taking its toll on The Bahamas, a leading lobby group says, with failure to act now leading to daunting ramifications in the future.
Adrian La-Roda, secretary and head of public relations for the Bahamas Commercial Fishers Alliance (BCFA), said a systemic flouting of laws must be addressed now.
“Fishermen are the ones that really know what’s going on,” he told Guardian Business.
“We want to be proactive and involved in the regulation of the industry. Our organization is prepared to work with government bringing in proper regulations so our great grandchildren can enjoy the things we enjoy today.”
With the BCFA’s anniversary falling this month, the group, made up of nearly 250 Bahamian fishermen, are pushing to have their voices heard on a non-partisan level. Although there is a Fisheries Advisory Council, La-Roda said the average fishermen rarely have access to this level.
“We’re trying to get the government to act on these lingering issues,” he added.
“They appear to be ignored for the most part.”
The issues are getting worse by the day, according to La-Roda.
Poaching and the lack of respect for borders have been traditionally accepted, he felt. Wide open borders and many islands make it difficult to police, but he speculated, based on data collected by BCFA, that there are at least 20 illegal operations occurring at any given time in The Bahamas.
A common tactic among poachers, he said, is employing foreigners in other fields and then putting them to work as fishermen.
“While they come here legally on a permit, they illegally work in the fishing industry,” he said.
“During the off-season, they return to the Dominican, for example, and return on poaching vessels. They know where the good fishing spots are.”
To combat the problem, and as part of their third anniversary, the BCFA will be pushing the government to develop a National Licensing Program. The idea, he said, is to assist in the enforcement of regulations by requiring, by law, that anyone out in the ocean and engaged in fishing must carry a specific permit.
The program could be managed exclusively by the government or through cooperation with BCFA.
Either way, La-Roda felt it was time for the organization to receive official recognition as the key stakeholders and people on the ground fighting the problem.
This week, Guardian Business reported from Andros, where fisheries officers continue to work in dilapidated conditions.
Glenn Gaitor, the assistant fisheries superintendent in Andros, said poachers from the U.S., Cuba and the Dominican Republic are reported constantly, but there are no resources to control the flow.
“It’s a matter of policing,” he told Guardian Business.
“We need marine resources. I’ve been trying to get a boat for 12 years now.”
Although policing technically falls to the Royal Bahamas Defence Force, Gaitor and La-Roda agree that there are just not enough of them to stop the problem.
Further legislation, regulation and enforcement is needed with a variety of stakeholders and lobby groups for the problem to truly go away, La-Roda said.
Poachers tend to have little regard for the environment, he added, meaning that not only do fish stocks drop with each catch, the ecology gets destroyed as well.
“In no time we’ll be faced with serious, serious problems in terms of our resources and fish supply,” he said. “The time is now and the government must move swiftly.”