By Ken Carroll
The Government of The Bahamas has the responsibly to protect and manage the Fishing Resources for the benefit of the Bahamian people. They must enact policies that benefit everyone in the short and long term. Many of those persons living in North Abaco who depend on fishing for their livelihood came together in a community forum to address those policies and standards pertaining to the fishing industry.
In particular they noted that procedures and regulations regarding the use of air compressors need to be revisited.
On Monday, May 26, at 6:00 pm a handful of fisherman came together at an open community meeting to seek answers from Leon Pinder, Assistant Superintendent for the Department of Fisheries at the St. Chad’s Community Hall in Fox Town. Urban Renewal 2.0 Crown Haven Community Center (URCHCC) manager, Bishop Ken Carroll, and North Abaco Local Government representative, Chairman Mr. Leslie McIntosh, hosted the meeting to facilitate discussion for those persons who felt they were deprived of their incomes.
Many other government officials were invited and were expected to be there, but due to other commitments were not able to attend.
Mr. Pinder, Assistant Superintendent at the Department of Fisheries, was informed about the meeting earlier and was aware that various fishermen wanted to meet with him to address their concerns. He called in during meeting to offer his excuse and apologized that he would not be able to make the meeting. Though many were disappointed that he was not able to attend, the meeting continued as planned.
The meeting was successful. URCHCC recording clerk, Ms. Ellamae Russell, took the minutes and made notes of the main concerns of those fishermen. Many said the government should be more lenient and considerate in finding other avenues of resources for them during the time that crawfish season is closed. Claiming that there are many bills that require to be paid, and, not having the funds to pay them, there are consequences they would have to face.
During the closed season, they get other fish and conch to distribute to their various buyers. Through the four months while the crawfish season is closed this is their only source of income. However, the water is very deep, and they can’t reach those supplies as easily as they would wish. The fishermen asked if the government could be lenient on them in regards to compressor regulations. They asked for permission to use their compressors within those four months, April 1 – July 20, that crawfish season is closed so that they may continue providing sea food to distribute.
Senior fisherman, Elton Parker, has been in the fishing industry for over 25 years and said he has much respect for the laws of the land.
“We in the North suffer each year and, basically, it’s becoming harder and harder for us to get grouper or conch because of the depth of the sea and free diving will not allow us to go as deep as we need too without the use of the air compressor,” Mr. Parker said.
He continued, saying that a permit for compressor use would be greatly appreciated by fishermen in the north.
All present fishermen were in agreement.
Mr. Parker was followed by George McIntosh and Catechist Christopher Russell who complained that sometimes the situation goes to the extreme with authorities confiscating their fishing equipment and boats. They claimed that then fishermen have to buy back their our own equipment during the open season, further hurting their livelihoods. Mr. Russell asked, “Why would government do such thing to us fishermen down here?”
Fishermen who attended the meeting were in agreement and discouraged, saying that too much was being done to punishing them.
URCHCC Manager, Bishop Carroll, felt that this meeting brought some clarity to the concerning matters of North Abaco fishermen. He said he will bring it to the attention to those in authority and will therefore set up another meeting in which the Minister of Department of Fisheries and other senior government official will be in attendance to give answers to their questions and concerns. He asked the fishermen to be patient as he presents their case before Renardo Curry, Member of Parliament for North Abaco.
In brief remarks by North Abaco Local Government District Chairman, Leslie McIntosh, he said he too will make sure justice and clarity comes to their situation and, as fishermen, they all have to come together and stand as one.