|By NOELLE NICOLLS
Tribune Staff Reporter
BAHAMIAN authorities found 1,600 pounds of undersized Nassau Grouper among 25,000 pounds of illegally-taken fish on a Dominican vessel when it was confiscated last week.
On Monday, the boat captain was fined $50,000 after he and 28 crew members pleaded guilty to fisheries law violations.
Captain Eduardo Diaz, 50, was ordered by the court to pay his fine or spend a year in prison, and his crew were ordered deported.
From the built in freezer of the 70ft steel-hulled motor vessel, authorities off-loaded an additional 590 pounds of undersized groupers; 11,322 lbs of whole lobsters; 361 lbs of lobster tails, including 17 lbs that were undersized; and 11,828 lbs of mixed fish, including snappers, parrot and hog fish, said Gilford Lloyd, senior fisheries officer.
The crawfish alone filled to capacity three large delivery trucks when it was carted off for storage at a commercial fish house contracted by the Department of Marine Resources.
"The fish are held until after the trial, because you can't confiscate or seize products until there is a conviction. Then the court decides what to do with the fish," said Mr Lloyd.
He said the presiding magistrate has the liberty to donate the fish to a charitable organisation; however, normally the product is placed on the market for sale.
While not the largest ever, it was considered a "huge seize", said Mr Lloyd.
The Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) with the assistance of the United States Coast Guard, captured the vessel off Columbus Bank, east of Ragged Island in the southeast Bahamas, arresting a crew of 33 Dominican men.
Inspector Ramsey of the Potters Cay Police Station said nine small boats were confiscated with the main vessel, in addition to nine spear guns, crawfish hooks, boat engines (15 horse power) and compressors. No illegal weapons were found on board.
"They often do have them, but when the Coast Guard is gaining on them they drop them in the sea," said Inspector Ramsey, speaking of the high powered weapons used by some poachers.
While poaching is a major problem for fishermen in the Southern Bahamas, Ragged Island fishermen "rarely" come into direct contact with poachers, according to Myron Lockhart-Bain, former chief counsellor of Ragged Island.
He said the subsistence fishermen operate out of small boats, under 20 feet long, with a crew of two people. They fish eight to 10 miles off the coast, unlike the foreign fishermen, who stay about 30 miles out on the Great Bahama Bank.
Most poachers have a large enough crew to work in shifts, and their main boats usually anchor in about 200 to 400 feet of water, according to Mr Lockhart-Bain.
The smaller boats, go out and "clean up everything" within a 10 miles radius of the "mother ship".
"They are cleaning up everything. They even crack conch under the water, take out the conch and bag them; it ruins the conch bed. Conch are just like people; no one wants to live in a graveyard. You can always tell where they have been, because there are piles of shell," said Mr Lockhart-Bain.
A New Providence based fishermen said unlike Bahamian fishermen, poachers have no respect for seasons or size limits; they fish day and night and in all weather conditions.
He also claimed the international boats have superior technology, which they use to evade the authorities.
source: TRIBUNE BAHAMAS