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|What Ban? IIlegal Fish Still For Sale (Nassau Guardian)|
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|Posted by:||Mar 17th 2007, 06:30:35 pm|
|Fig Tree News Team||Illegal fish catch for sale
By VERNON CLEMENT JONES, Senior Business Reporter
Tourists and Bahamians can legally dine on fresh grouper and crawfish 365 days a year - strong evidence of holes in the net protecting that economic resource, said the director of fisheries.
"Currently during our closed season you can still sell (grouper and spiny lobster)," said Michael Braynen, head of that government department. "That is a problem because it does provide an opportunity for unscrupulous persons to fish for it."
And they do.
So much so, in fact, hotels across the country offer fresh grouper - baked, stewed, fried, and even curried - during the closed season. That spans from December 1 to the end of February. Fishing for lobster, another staple on local menus, is prohibited from March 31 to July 31, an effort to allow young animals to breed and replenish a dwindling resource.
"We have never had an absolutely closed season for fishing," said Braynen Thursday. "That's what we are striving for - an absolutely closed season."
Falling short of that goal threatens to cut into an increasingly lucrative foreign market for local companies.
All toll, the export of fish, in particular crawfish, accounts for some $180 million a year, or three percent of Bahamian gross domestic product.
That revenue comes largely on the strength of European sales of the country's two largest wholesalers, Paradise Fisheries and Tropic Seafood.
Expectations were that their bottom-lines were set to rise after a new treaty with the EU and the Caribbean negotiators guaranteed unfettered access to markets.
However, illegal fishing out of season to feed domestic appetite effectively steals from the longevity of the export market.
Visitor expectation may be the driving force behind poaching and subsequent sale of the catch.
"We are The Bahamas," said one restaurant manager Chris Adderley. "When tourist come here they expect to get their boiled grouper or their lobster.
"We have no choice but to buy wherever we can get our hands on it."
It's an argument that could undermine Bahamian fish stocks.
According to Braynen, the government will eventually move to mend all holes in its fish protection policy. But for now the open sale of fish - whether in or out of season - will continue.
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