Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources, Michael Pintard held a meeting on November 8 to address matters of concern to fisherman in Abaco
Mr. Pintard stressed the importance of the topic “as we are importing 80 percent of our food.”
He noted that from the time he was in highschool he had determined that he wanted to dedicate himself to finding ways for us to feed ourselves. “Fate would have it many years later I am working with you in order to do that.”
Mr. Pintard said that he knows that people have a low expectation of what the government will do to improve the sector, but hoped to address their concerns.
He said that the government has a multi-pronged approach to combat poaching, with the Royal Bahamas Defense Force (RBDF) having stepped up its patrols after over $200 million was invested in a new fleet of vessels, “and they have done a commendable job.”
He noted that the Bahamas’ 100,000 square miles of water is a challenge to police; however, he feels a reasonable and meaningful dent can be made in dealing with poaching.
He noted that the installation of RADAR in the Southern Bahamas which he believes will pay dividends in being able to detect vessels in our waters
“We are also exploring to become a part of a global satellite system which would allow us to be able to tell whether there is a commercial fishing vessel or a pleasure vessel in our waters so that we are able to respond,” he said.
He added that Cabinet has also approved a proposal that would allow them to utilize drone technology both on land and over sea (short range and long range).
He also noted that fisheries legislation is being amended with a view to increase penalties for persons who illegally exploit our fisheries.
“The penalties they are seeking to pass are severe; presently the maximum penalty for a fisheries offense is about $50,000 – on the low end of the new penalties you will be looking at $100,000 all the way up to $1 million for offences,” he said.
Mr. Pintard stated that “we believe a very strong message needs to be sent to persons overseas that if they want to come in Bahamian waters the penalties [for infractions] will be severe.”
He said they are looking to address difficulties that have happened in the past between the Department of Immigration, the Labour Department and the Department of Marine Resources where Work Permits and Labour Permits are granted by the former agencies leaving pressure on the latter to comply.
He said that they have agreed between the departments that before permits are signed that conversations are held to ensure that before persons are given compressor licenses that there is certainly no Bahamians available for the job.
He noted though that a person who is a permanent resident, even if he is a Dominican, he is inclined to sign off on allowing his license. “If someone is willing to live with a spouse for 20 years and has permanent resident status, I don’t see any grounds for me to deny that person,” Mr. Pintard said.
However, he noted of those on spousal permits that he has accepted (though some were also denied) he has also put on them “Under Investigation” recognizing that there are some fraudulent permits out there.
“At the end of the day we want to dispel the notion that because you brought someone in that getting the permit is automatic,” he said.
The Department of Marine Resources in conjunction with the RBDF and National Training Agency and BTVI are looking to implement a comprehensive diver training program to increase the pool of Bahamian Divers as there appears to be some shortage of divers.
He said that regarding the Marine Protected Areas (MPAs) that the government arrives at their conclusions only through consultation and science – working with environmental groups, scientists and local stakeholders to make sure we hear from all in terms of how we should approach this.
“We believe it must be science driven and studies must show that those areas are under pressure and in order to reduce the pressure we have to reduce the overharvesting of any particular marine species; we need to gather the data,” he said.
Mr. Pintard added that there has to be a sharing of the data so that stakeholders can see the reasons why there need to be restrictions or seasons.
He said that while we are often distracted by the Dominican “boogeyman” that we ignore the American and Bahamians who are practicing unsafe and illegal fishing in our waters.
He noted that there will also soon be some amendments made to flats fishing legislation with consultation from all stakeholders.