Some local fishermen have labelled the punishment of 17 Dominican poachers recently arraigned in court as a “smack in the face”, charging that the penalties should have been a reflection of the ongoing poaching crisis in the country.
On Tuesday, it was reported that the poachers were fined $23,000 for nearly 3,000 pounds of fish last week.
The captain and one crew member, who were found to be repeat offenders, were fined $10,000 after being caught with 2,154 pounds of undersized crawfish or six months in prison.
The other crew members received a $5,000 fine or three months in prison.
“Well, it’s upsetting,” said local fisherman and fisheries activist Paul Mallis.
“It’s upsetting that we had a precedent set for a certain level of fines.
“We had a precedent set for a certain level of sentencing, and we found that even though the number of undersized and the total volume of fish captured in this apprehension was lower than in others.
“We feel that they should have still sent the same message seeing as the fines and the sentences are already so small and already so insignificant to these guys, sentencing them to the maximum capacity should have been a non-issue. It really should have been a reflection of the crisis that is ongoing.”
Mallis further charged that the punishment should have been severe enough to deter boat owners from breaking the law.
“We need to deter these captains in a way that evokes fear in them,” he said.
“That’s how you deter crime. That is the purpose of the law. It’s to deter crime. And we feel that in this case, the courts got it wrong.
“So, for us it’s unsettling, it’s disappointing, and I think it’s a smack in the face for all of the efforts to really combat poaching.”
Last year, Minister of National Security Marvin Dames said the government would explore strengthening legislation dealing with poachers, following a shootout on the high seas.
Dames indicated that he and Minister of Foreign Affairs Darren Henfield were in discussions on the incident and the steps the government must take in partnership with the Dominican government.
Last week, Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Michael Pintard said that his ministry is now in the final stages of revising such legislation to present to Cabinet.
He added that he expects amendments to be debated in Parliament prior to the end of this fiscal year.
Asked if he thinks the government is dragging its feet on the matter, Mallis said, “We understand that the Fisheries Act has been pretty stagnant for a very long time.
“It really should have been adjusted as soon as they saw the beginning of this Dominican poaching crisis.
“At that point, they should have made provision to deal with this on an international level, not just these pathetic, little, basic agreement treaties.”
He added that the country needs to ensure that it sends a message to poachers to take the law seriously.
“We cherish our fisheries,” he said.
“Our Fisheries Act is designed in such a way to prevent ridiculous exploitation. We don’t promote certain fishing practices that are commonplace in the Dominican Republic, and they need to respect that.
“They need to understand that we want to exploit our fisheries at a rate that was best suited for our country and our fisherman.
“So, we don’t want their practices here, and we don’t want the Dominican men who are marrying Bahamian women to think they they’re just going to have carte blanche to start replicating the practices they use in the Dominican Republic to destroy their fishing industry right back in this country.”
Local fisherman Kieth Carroll added that the country needs more prosecutors that understand the industry and the law it’s governed by.
“We need people who know what the fisherman [are] going through, people who know that if I bring in 100 pounds of undersized crawfish, what damage that can do to the country,” he said.
“Last year, at one point, they brought in 15,000 pounds and everything was undersized – egg-bearing crawfish, undersized groupers, sharks, turtles and everything.
“We can’t even catch turtles no more. We can’t catch turtles. We can’t catch sharks, but these guys are doing everything. We need our prosecutors to deal with fishing, and to know everything about fishing.”