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Fisheries Need Protection Now [Nassau Guardian]
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Posted by:Apr 7th 2004, 02:19:29 pm
chapelFisheries needs
protection now
By Sir Nicholas Nuttall

Steve McKinney invited me to his show the day after Independence Day to talk about the issues raised in this column. The phones soon lit up and he got a terrific response from some very knowledgeable Bahamian fishing boat captains. While my themes have been on protection of the fish stocks and the culture and way of life which they underpin, it was clear from the phone calls that our brothers who go down to the sea in ships have more immediate and pressing concerns, namely poaching.

What they say is, even if our government managed the fishery perfectly, unless they stop the Dominican boats coming in with 100 divers working off 50 small dinghies and, to quote captain Ignatius Carroll, “taking everything that is big enough to stick on a spear”, we will lose the fishery anyway.
The gallant Captain told us that the boat of a friend of his, Captain Kenny, was surrounded by these mother ships on the banks, which were determined to drive him off. Imagine, foreign poachers have so little respect for our own Independence; they are bold enough to drive Bahamian captains off our fishing grounds!

The Dominicans were scared off eventually when a US Coast Guard helicopter appeared. Our captains have learned not to look to the RBDF for help, because their vessels, even if they are not chasing illegal immigrants or drug smugglers, draw too much water to go over the banks after poachers. I remember three or four years ago thinking that whoever sold the Bahamas two old boats that drew 11 or more feet must have been a super salesman. They can never be of any practical use in our waters.

During a news break shortly after we listened to this appalling story Steve commented that after Independence in 1973 we never realised that we had to take responsibility for our defence. That was something the UK had done, and our young nation had many other priorities. At the mature age of 30, it is high time we took this duty seriously.
Sadly, if the bad guys know you are not looking after your stuff, they will come in and help themselves, laughing at you for being a soft touch. It is not difficult to imagine this kind of abuse leading to a tragedy in which lives are lost.

We have, in our waters at present an unregulated free-for-all, where our own fishermen, so-called sports fishermen and downright thieves are competing for the last unprotected viable fish stocks left in the region. Cuba defends its waters, so does the USA. Britain helps the Turks and Caicos look after their fish. Haiti and The Dominican Republic have no fish left.
Therefore, everyone comes after ours and that is an accident waiting to happen if ever I saw one.

Sir Nicholas Nuttall is founder and chairman of the Bahamas Reef Environment Educational Foundation and a longtime resident of the Bahamas.

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