Mon | Mar 30, 2020

Make poachers forfeit every boat, says conch exporter

Published:Wednesday | March 13, 2019 | 12:19 AMChristopher Serju/Gleaner Writer
Roderick Francis, CEO of B&D Trawling.

Roderick Francis is applauding the Fisheries Division for declared intention to hit poachers hard in pocket following the recent announcement that the agency will be seeking forfeiture of two boats, fishing equipment, and 55,769lb of assorted seafood on board.

Francis, CEO of B&D Trawling, one of the major processors and exporters of conch and conch products that are projected to take a financial beating from a one-year ban on fishing and exporting the mollusc, is urging the authorities to always press for forfeiture of all vessels involved in poaching.

“What does the recent capture show? That if the (monitoring and surveillance) presence is there, we gonna catch these people. I want to see now where the boat is forfeited, because that’s the problem,” the B&D CEO told The Gleaner on Monday, citing the recently passed Fisheries Act, 2018.

“Based on the new legislation, you have grounds now to charge these people more, but if you fine them J$100 million or 30 days in prison, the workers just serve the 30 days. You don’t get one dollar, and then you give back the people the boat. It’s like you find a man with an illegal gun, and you take out the bullets and give him back the gun and say, ‘Gwaan now’.”

The captain, chief mate and engineer have been charged with using a vessel as a processing plant without the permission of the minister and operating a motor vessel within Jamaican territorial waters without a licence.

They were intercepted by the Jamaica Defence Coast Guard on Saturday, March 2.

Dominicans charged

Meanwhile, the other 54 Dominicans have been charged with possession of conch (34,531.9lb) in close season, possession of undersized lobsters (332.5lb), possession of berried (egg-bearing) lobsters (60lb), fishing without a licence, and fishing without identification.

“I have to take my hat off to the Coast Guard; that’s plenty conch. These guys come like a vacuum cleaner and take all our resources. These are the major causes of depletion of the stock,” he said.

“You have these people come in and operate as if it’s a free-for all. You catch one, two boats with so much conch; what happened to the other 10 that got away?”

While the clampdown by the Ministry of Industry, Commerce, Agriculture and Fisheries caught sector stakeholders by surprise, it will get the necessary support, despite the anticipated hardships, said Francis.

“I believe it was necessary. We are guided by science, and if the scientific surveys say that we shouldn’t harvest this year, then we shouldn’t, and we have to abide by that, but at the same time, you have to look at the other factors involved,” Francis explained.

“It was only last April that 59 fishermen from the Dominican Republic were fined a total of J$11 million during a special sitting of the Kingston and St Andrew Parish Court.

Not guilty plea

The captain was fined $2.5 million, while his two deputies were ordered to pay $750,000 each, and the other 56 fishermen, $125,000. Sixteen of the 24 Jamaican fishermen operating in a separate boat charged with breaches of the Fishing Industry Act pleaded not guilty. Their case was tried separately.

More than 7,600 pounds of fish was found on the Dominican Republic vessel, while more than 5,400 pounds of fish was found on the Jamaica-registered boat, which was said to be experiencing mechanical difficulties when it was intercepted.

A little over a week before, the Coast Guard had caught another 32 fishermen from the Dominican Republic fishing illegally about 120 miles south of Jamaica in the vicinity of the Pedro Cays, bringing to 115 the number of poachers caught during the period. The estimated value of all three seizures, with a combined weight of more than 33,000lb, was estimated at $16.5 million.

Assistant Commissioner of Police Assan Thompson told The Gleaner then that the hefty fine should have proven a deterrent for would-be poachers.

“This one will send an extremely strong message to persons who might want to come to poach in our waters. I think this one will say to them, ‘Don’t enter the Jamaican waters,’” he said.

However, while the fish and some of the fishing equipment were seized, the Dominicans were allowed to sail back home aboard their vessel, which had been engaged in the illegal activity.