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Dozens of Dominican poachers arrested

Authorities arrested dozens of alleged Dominican poachers on-board a 70-foot vessel that was transporting thousands of pounds of illegal fish and lobster in waters near Guinchos Cay.

A passenger on a cruise ship traveling in the Old Bahama Channel spotted several vessels, which resulted in authorities being alerted, according to the Royal Bahamas Defence Force.

The HMBS Madeira intercepted the vessels shortly after midnight on Sunday, but two evaded capture by entering Cuban waters. Upon boarding the captured vessel, “Ronnye”, authorities found a commercial freezer loaded with illegal catch, including undersized spiny lobster.

Authorities did not provide specifics on the weight and value of the illegal catch.

Forty-six Dominicans were arrested and brought to New Providence.

Air compressors and spearguns were also found on-board the vessel.

The fishermen, their illegal catch and vessel were turned over to the police and officials from the Marine Resources Unit.

RBDF Commodore Tellis Bethel expressed appreciation for the cruise ship passenger for spotting the poachers and notifying authorities.

He encouraged the public to alert authorities of suspicious activity by contacting 376-3816, noting that posting the information on social media could have inadvertently tipped off the poachers to flee.

“This recent sighting by a Bahamian cruise ship passenger would not have been the first time such an incident occurred,” the RBDF said. “Not long ago, a similar sighting was reported by another Bahamian passenger while on a cruise that was also passing through the Old Bahama Channel over a year ago. During that incident, the Bahamian passenger contacted the defense force and reported that he had spotted a Dominican boat poaching in the area.

“The suspect vessel was intercepted by the defense force.

“However, it turned out that the would-be poaching vessel, which looked like a Dominican fishing vessel, was a Bahamian fishing vessel.

“Furthermore, unbeknown to the Bahamian passenger at the time, the suspicious vessel he reported was actually one of his fishing vessels. In addition to patrolling the southern Bahamas, the defense force is also working closely with partner law enforcement agencies in Grand Bahama, Bimini, Exuma, and Abaco to prevent illegal fishing, as well as the smuggling of arms, undeclared goods and other contraband by locals and foreigners.”

According to Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Michael Pintard the government is eyeing stiffer penalties for poaching.

“We will be pursuing legislative means, whether it includes stiffer penalties; using the diplomatic channels in order to talk to the countries where these poachers are coming from,” he said. “Those are the kinds of measures we are going to be pursuing.”

Acting Director of Marine Resources Edison Deleveaux also urged Bahamians to recognize the importance of the closed seasons.

The lobster season runs from August 1 to March 31.

“Let us allow the stock to increase and multiply,” Deleveaux said.

“If we have persons out there harvesting without any regard for seasonality and size, eventually we are going to have a depleted or a completely overfished stock.”

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