The executive director of one local environmental group has warned against The Bahamas “selling our soul” to the Chinese and another stressed that sensitive marine habitats of the country simply could not withstand the large-scale fishing initiative outlined in a proposal presented by Bahamas Ambassador to China Paul Andy Gomez, and stamped for further development by Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources V. Alfred Gray.
“After reading the proposal, frankly I don’t think there’s anything in the proposal that makes sense. We were alarmed, we were shocked,” said Kristin Williams, executive director of the Abaco-based Friends of the Environment.
“Our marine resources are our livelihood; it’s the soul of our country, and we would essentially be selling our soul to the Chinese government.
“None of this makes sense, and our country has worked so hard and the government has taken such great steps in the marine conservation world.
“It would just be setting us back so far, which was a part of the reason I was so alarmed to read the proposal. But I think I was pleasantly surprised of the initial reaction of the Bahamian people, standing up for our marine resources.”
Williams said her group intends to be involved in open discussions with the government, the Bahamian people and NGOs moving forward, but she hopes the proposal dies an early death.
“I’m hoping it won’t move forward. I think the government has seen the initial reaction of the Bahamian people and I don’t think there’s any amount of money that could be injected into our economy that would be worth sacrificing our marine resources for,” she said.
Casuarina McKinney-Lambert, executive director of the Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation (BREEF), also said the proposal should be a no go.
That proposal, which has been the subject of intense national discussion in recent days, calls for the incorporation of 100 companies — owned equally by Bahamian and Chinese entities.
If it is agreed as presented, the government of The Bahamas would provide fishing licenses to each of the 100 companies, and approvals for fishing and farming experts “for a limited period, who will probably be Chinese”.
McKinney-Lambert told National Review, “I think the most important thing to realize is that our fishing industry is very fragile here.
“The main reason why we still have fish here is because we have a tiny population, 390,000 people; whereas you look at a country that has several billion people. We just don’t have that capacity within our waters to be able to supply food to China at that scale.”
The proposal states that “it is anticipated that the agricultural products and the seafood will be used either for local consumption or will be exported to China or the U.S.A.”
The initiative would see the Chinese injecting $2.1 billion into the project over 10 years.
Asked if she is surprised the government is even entertaining further discussions on the initiative, McKinney-Lambert said, “The Bahamas has done a very good job protecting our marine resources compared to a lot of other places. So from that perspective, it’s not surprising that outside interests are interested in getting involved in fishing.
“I’m not surprised, and quite frankly, as we continue to do a better job at protecting our resources through marine protected areas and protecting the spawning stocks, there is likely to be even more interest in what we have here.”
She said she has been in contact with a number of fisheries scientists from around the world who have shared some of their examples of what has gone on elsewhere “really as warning stories for us in The Bahamas, and I think it’s useful to look at that”.
“This is not something that is just popping up out of the blue,” McKinney-Lambert said. “It’s something that’s taken place in many countries, and by this I’m talking about a rapid increase in fisheries capacity, particularly with financing of equipment and technical expertise from China, and it has already resulted in the collapse of fisheries in several places.”
McKinney-Lambert pointed out that The Bahamian marine environment and the Bahamian fishing industry are critically important to sustaining our way of life. They provide essential food for our people, jobs in fishing and tourism and numerous other benefits.
“We must defend these resources as if our lives depend on it, because they do,” she added.
“Our resources, and the Bahamians whose livelihoods depend on them are now facing the most severe threat we have ever seen.
“The proposal for heavy Chinese investment in Bahamian fisheries prioritizes short-term foreign goals over long-term Bahamian economic, social and environmental sustainability, and it would undermine our national sovereignty.
“Many countries in the Indo-Pacific have already experienced an influx of Chinese capital in fisheries, rapidly followed by speedy resource extraction, and then collapse.”