Amid a threat from a group of foreign-born fishermen and their wives to file a constitutional motion against the government over its Fisheries Bill, 2020, Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Michael Pintard said yesterday that there will be “no adjustments” made to the bill.
In a December 22 letter to Pintard, Alfred Sears, QC, who represents the group, said the Fisheries Bill, 2020, and the Immigration (Amendment) Bill, 2020, which seeks to ensure that work permits are not granted for commercial fishing, are “unconstitutional, illegal and will irreparably harm” his clients.
He has asked that the government halt the assent of the bills and meet with his clients regarding their concerns.
When asked about the letter, Pintard said, “I have no thoughts on his letter because I have not read it.
“But in terms of the position that we have taken to bring a
comprehensive bill, one component of it relates to the nationality of who can fish, no adjustments.”
Sears wrote that if a satisfactory response to his clients’ request is not received by Wednesday, December 30, 2020, then a constitutional motion will be filed.
Asked about his thoughts on the threat of legal action, Pintard said, “We already had a legal action. Dion Smith is already suing the government over the same matter. Alfred Sears, I haven’t read his document as yet and don’t plan to. So, he’s the second person to join. So, we have two legal actions, so there’s nothing new about that.”
The Fisheries Bill seeks to prohibit non-Bahamians from partaking in commercial fishing in Bahamian waters. The bill, along with the Immigration (Amendment) Bill, 2020, was passed in the Senate on Monday.
The Fisheries Bill states that no operator of a commercial fishing vessel shall allow a person who is not a citizen of The Bahamas to engage in fishing in Bahamian waters or use a vessel other than for charter sportsfishing.
Commercial fishing operators are also prohibited from employing non-Bahamians on board their vessel.
A person who contravenes this section is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding $250,000 or imprisonment for a term not exceeding four years or both.
Wives and children of foreign-born fishermen, as well as former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham and East Grand Bahama MP Peter Turnquest have spoken out, calling portions of the bill “discriminatory”.
However, when asked about the pushback, Pintard said, “I think there’s less backlash than support. I think there’s widespread support for the bill.”
Pintard added, “We are sympathetic to any family that feels that they are disadvantaged, but the same thing is true for Bahamians who export conch.
“We are prepared to assist persons with alternative livelihoods, so that no Bahamian is disadvantaged and we’ll do the same for Bahamian families that have a non-Bahamian who wishes to work in a sector that is restricted for Bahamians.”
Sears’ clients include: Fish Farmers Ltd.; Three Ro Bahamas Ltd.; Audley Seafood Ltd.; Geneva Brass Seafood; Paradise Fisheries Ltd.; Mr. Morazan Zuniga Jackson and Mrs. Maria Jackson; and Mr. Jaime Reynaldo Perez and Mrs. Racquel Anthyna Major-Perez.
He noted that his clients are “wives of or holders of spousal permits, permanent residency certificates and 100 percent Bahamian-owned commercial fishing enterprises based in New Providence”.
Sears wrote that the discriminatory provisions in the bills “breach certain fundamental and natural justice rights of our clients”.
“Further, there was a glaring breach of our clients’ legitimate expectation to be consulted about the contents of the said bills,” he wrote.
“While our clients support the need to address the vexing problems of illegal poaching, unreported fishing and marine conservation, there is no reasonable justification in treating holders of spousal permits, permanent residency certificates and Bahamian-owned commercial fishing enterprises in such an unfair, unreasonable and discriminatory manner.”
He added, “There is not an adequate number of qualified and experienced Bahamian commercial fishing divers in New Providence, especially during lobster seasons, to meet the labor demands of commercial fishing dive boats on New Providence.”
However, Pintard told The Nassau Guardian yesterday that, that isn’t the case, saying the number of Bahamians receiving dive permits on an annual basis far exceeds that of non-Bahamians.
“We issue, generally, 1,000 dive permits to Bahamians,” he said.
“On the best year where you have the majority of persons applying who are non-Bahamian, around 60 dive permits.
“So, 1,000 versus 60, and on the low end, 800 versus 40, just so that you can get the context when people talk about the lack of availability of Bahamians who are interested in diving.”
He added, “When commercial vessel owners say the industry could collapse with devastation to this important sector, it is untrue. The statistics do not support that.
“Those permits these guys are getting, they are getting them for captain and engineer. The Bahamas, we have a lot of captains. We don’t need a non-Bahamian captain on a vessel.”