Former Minister of Immigration and Foreign Affairs Fred Mitchell said yesterday that the defense force should be applying more muscle and firepower as it continues to tackle the issue of Dominican fishermen poaching in Bahamian waters.
Mitchell’s comments follow strong criticisms from the Bahamas Commercial Fishers Alliance and the Spanish Wells Fishing Association.
In a statement on Wednesday, those organizations expressed disappointment in the government’s “lukewarm” position on the matter.
“The starting point for me is the same concern [as] the fishermen,” Mitchell told The Nassau Guardian.
“But the more important issue is not the question of the diplomatic measures because you can talk all you want, unless the talk is backed up by muscle, the talk is empty.
“What I’m concerned about is the reports that the defense force vessels are not in the shape that they should be and, as so, are therefore not available to back up the threats which The Bahamas government might make with regards to these people on the high seas, so that’s the issue.
“I continue to be concerned about it, we’ve spoken about it, the fact that the defense force does not appear to be applying the muscle that it should, because once that happens, I think that you will begin to see changes on the high seas with regard to this behavior.”
In their statement, the fishing organizations said, “The government of The Bahamas must take a hard stance once and for all against this threat. Soft words from the minister of foreign affairs will not ally our fears for the future of our children.”
Following two recent apprehensions of Dominican fishermen reportedly poaching in Bahamian waters, Foreign Affairs Minister Darren Henfield said he is confident that talks with the Dominican government will result in the implementation of new measures to address the longstanding issue.
Henfield noted that talks with representatives from the Dominican government resulted in commitments that the Dominican government would do more to help alleviate the problem.
However, Mitchell noted yesterday that these were similar indications he had been given when he had responsibility for the ministry.
“They were polite,” Mitchell said.
“They agreed that these fisherman should stop. They were supposed to put on each ship, a tracker, so that the equivalent of the defense force in the Dominican Republic would know where their ships are at all time and be able to track and stop them. There was supposed to have been an operational agreement signed between both defense forces. I’m not sure where any of those things now stand, but I repeat, you can sign whatever agreements you wish, unless you have the muscle on the high seas to back up what you are saying, it all comes to nothing.”
Asked whether he believes there is a political will from the Dominican government to address the issue, Mitchell said, “My impression is that the [Dominican] government wants to create a good impression with the Bahamian government. I’m not sure whether they either have the resources or there may be some logistic issues…but it’s our job to get the defense force in a position where it can, in a muscular fashion, take on these people. And it isn’t good enough, one, two, three a week, you must be bringing them in by the scores and using the firepower to put a stop to it.”