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Unregulated Fishing Destroying Our Waters

 

Dear Editor,

Here is something to think about other than election, corruption, missing VAT money, and unopened hospitals. As I live and work on the water this is something that I deal with every day.

I have had the good fortune to spend my entire life living and working on Parrot Cay which is a small island near Hope Town. Since my parents first began living here in the mid 1950s we have always treated the surrounding waters as a sanctuary. We have not caught the sea life for ourselves and have tried to protect it from others. It has been a breeding ground and nursery for snapper, grouper, crawfish, and conch.

Over the years there has always been the occasional boat that we have caught fishing around the cay and have had to speak with them and explain the situation. It has not really been a problem and they have usually left without an issue. In the last several years this has drastically changed. In good weather we now have two to three boats or more per day scouring our shoreline and killing everything that moves. By far the worst offenders are the cruisers in dinghies, then foreign center consoles, tourists in rental boats, and increasingly more Bahamians.

To those that are unaware it is illegal to spear within 200 yards of any shoreline and it is incredibly rude to fish or spear under someone’s house or around their dock. What we had just a few years ago as a thriving underwater oasis is now a barren desert. This has obviously caused a tremendous amount of heartache and stress and I have been having an increasingly hard time not becoming violent.

I blame this situation on several factors:

1)         There is nothing left on the reef so people are looking elsewhere.

2)         There is no enforcement of any kind of our existing fisheries laws. It is a free for all and everyone knows it

3)         Our visitors are changing and along with the mostly good people who I consider friends and enjoy having around we are also getting more and more visitors who have no respect for us or our country and are simply here to party and kill as much sea life as possible. It is changing from a few bad apples to a lot of bad apples.

4)         Pollution and storms have damaged the reefs.

Other than the damage to the reefs my answers that can make an immediate impact are to make the fisheries laws much more stringent and to actually enforce them. Everyone has seen that changing the turtle fishing rules has been a huge success. There are now turtles everywhere and I would expect that in the not too distant future turtle fishing will once again be open at least recreationally. If we can do the same with the rest of our fisheries perhaps we can have similar success.

Here are my suggestions for our local area. It would not help our bigger problems of Dominican and Cuban poaching in the Southern Bahamas or the widespread American poaching in our northern waters:

1)         The bag limits are much too large. We need to look at them and make them much smaller. Make them apply to per boat per day rather than per person.

2)         Prohibit all fishing by non-Bahamians unless they have a licensed Bahamian guide.

3)         Bahamians can become guides by completing a course to be able to identify the various species, to know the fisheries laws, and to be able to navigate the local waters. Bag limits would apply to whatever boat they may be in. Being above the limits would be grounds for criminal prosecution as well as loss of guide license.

4)         Bag limits would apply to recreational fishing for Bahamians.

5)         Commercial licenses can be obtained by Bahamians if they can prove that the majority of their yearly income comes from fishing. Being caught with under size or out of season fish, crawfish, or conch would be grounds for prosecution and loss of license.

6)         Non-Bahamian property owners can obtain recreational licenses for their boats. They must be present in the boat for the license to be valid.

7)         Prohibit netting of any kind.

This may sound harsh and people will say you have to let the foreigners fish or it will kill our economy and you can’t limit Bahamians on what they can or cannot catch. To that I would say sorry, those days are over. We can no longer support unregulated fishing in our waters. We need to protect what little bit is left and see if we can get it to rebound. In the long run we will have a stronger tourism product if we have a vibrant seascape and the will to protect it.

In regards to enforcement, you can make all the rules you want but without enforcement they are meaningless. For a number of years there have been no patrols of any kind checking on fishing in the Sea of Abaco. The Royal Defense Force is occasionally offshore but that is about it. Although I have no desire for a police state and enjoy our freedoms we do need some police presence. I would like to volunteer myself and my boat at my expense to one day a month take a policeman with me and patrol our local waters for fisheries violations. Hopefully others will do the same. Several patrols per month on unspecified days in unmarked boats would be a good deterrent. I intend to speak with the Chief Inspector and will spread the word.

Sincerely,

Jeffrey Gale

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