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BCFA: Illegal fishermen creeping toward 100

The Bahamas Commercial Fishers Alliance (BCFA) has said the number of illegal fishermen currently operating in the country is swiftly approaching 100, Guardian Business has learned.

While taking away jobs from locals is a major concern, Adrian La-Roda, the secretary and head of public relations for the BCFA, said a disrespect for the natural environment is another factor taking its toll on the industry.

The count stands at 86, according to records from the BCFA, which doesn’t come from any government organization. It comes from the source – the fishermen themselves.

“This number goes up every year,” he said. “Our sources work on the fishing vessels. That’s how we get our information. Trying to get it from the Immigration Department or the Department of Labour is a waste of time.”

Over the last few weeks, La-Roda added that reports have come in of six additional illegal workers finding employment on Bahamian waters. It is illegal for non-Bahamians to directly engage in fishing.

The BCFA doesn’t have the resources to enforce standards or personally monitor the vessels, so they rely on information confidentially provided by fishermen.

La-Roda said he could “confidently” say that the current tally of illegal workers is “more or less accurate”.

The Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources didn’t return calls before press time.

In November, Guardian Business reported that BCFA, made up of 250 Bahamian fishermen, was pushing to have their voices heard on a non-partisan level. Although there is a Fisheries Advisory Council, La-Roda said the average fisherman rarely has access to this level. The organization is actively seeking a more active role in the administration and regulation of their industry.

BCFA recently celebrated its third anniversary.

Glenn Gaitor, the assistant fisheries superintendent in Andros, said in an earlier interview that the situation was “a matter of policing”.

He agreed that regulation and further resources are needed, but currently there is no funding to stop the problem.

Another initiative for BCFA is to develop a National Licensing Program to assist in the regulation of fishermen.

“Many operators circumvent the law by hiring foreigners as engineers. Often you’ll have five ‘engineers’ on a vessel with two engines. How does this happen?” she asked. “They are employing people who are working much cheaper than a Bahamian would work.”

Most of the illegal labor, according to La-Roda, comes from the Dominican Republic and Honduras.

Operators can also flout the law by placing Bahamian names on work permits and giving them to foreign employees. The Bahamas does not require a photo on its work permits for fishermen at this time, La-Roda added.

But apart from the loss of jobs, BCFA said the damage done to marine life is perhaps most troubling.

“They don’t have an interest in the country. They are not concerned about the long-term effect of their actions. They see the quota and they want to make the quota today,” he said.

As operators are driven by the bottom line, cheap labor is encouraged to use questionable practices, such as fishing juveniles or fishing out of season. Pains are not taken to protect ecosystems and pollution is left behind, he explained.

He pointed out that revising the permit model would not even come at a cost to the government. Instead, the relevant applicant will take on any additional expenditure.

“The authorities just need to understand. But the political will is not there,” he said.

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