Foreign fisherman bar in legal battle

* Wholesalers, boat owners team to fight reforms

* Fisheries Act 'unconstitutional, discriminatory'

* Allege law's supporters will soon 'not gloat'

By NEIL HARTNELL

and YOURI KEMP

Tribune Business Reporters

Top fisheries wholesalers have teamed with boat owners and foreign workers in a bid to overturn recent legal reforms passed by Parliament that ban the latter from working in the sector,.

Paradise Fisheries and Percy Roberts, Geneva Brass Seafood's principal, are among 10 plaintiffs named in a January 8, 2021, summons that urges the Supreme Court to declare the ban contained in the Fisheries Act 2020 and Immigration Act changes as unconstitutional and discriminatory.

The wholesalers, who are joined by various fishing boat-owning corporate entities, two Dominican fishermen working legally in this nation and their Bahamian wives, are ultimately seeking a "permanent injunction" from the court to prevent the Government from implementing the provisions in the new Acts that they deem offensive.

The summons, filed by Sears & Company, the law firm of ex-attorney general Alfred Sears, is focused on two parts of the Fisheries Act - sections 31 and 32 - that bar foreign fishermen - even those in The Bahamas legally with work and spousal permits, or permanent residency, from working on Bahamian-owned fishing vessels.

It argues that these create "arbitrary and discriminatory treatment" for the two wives, Maria Jackson and Raquel Anthonya Major-Perez, as the reforms deprive them of support by their husbands in violation of numerous parts of the Bahamian constitution. The summons also alleges that the legislative changes have robbed their husbands of their "unrestricted right to work".

The summons, in particular, targets the constitution's article 26, which prohibits discrimination on race or ethnic grounds. Other articles cited include those related to the individual's freedom; protection from inhumane treatment; and protection for the privacy of the home and other property.

The legal papers argue that the Fisheries Act and Immigration Act also violate treaties that The Bahamas has signed on to, and result in "arbitrary and unlawful interference with family life" by introducing treatment "inconsistent with principles prevailing in democratic societies".

Other arguments allege that the bar will undermine the operations of the named wholesalers and fishing boat vessels, depriving them of the ability to hire expatriate labour that is present in The Bahamas legally while rival operators "have a pool of abundant and available professional commercial fishing divers in their islands".

Adding that the plaintiffs "had a reasonable expectation that they would have been consulted" before the legal reforms were made, the summons said the wholesalers and boat owners had agreed to work with the Government to support the creation of a national dive programme at the National Training Agency and offer apprenticeship initiatives to help The Bahamas solve its labour shortages.

Mr Sears yesterday said the summons "raises important constitutional questions" given the threat posed to the "livelihood" of his clients. They are also seeking an injunction, or stay, to prevent the reforms from being implemented before the main trial is heard.

Michael Pintard, minister of agriculture and marine resources; Elsworth Johnson, minister with responsibility for Immigration, and Carl Bethel QC, the attorney general, are named as respondents.

Errol Davis, a spokesperson for the Coalition For Responsible Fishing (CFRF), of which Paradise Fisheries and Geneva Brass Seafood, said: “Some of the local fishermen will not gloat when they realise that there are other portions of the [Fisheries] Act that will adversely affect them.

"The restrictions from fishing within a certain radius of other fishermen's lobster condos and traps, essentially allowing a lease of portions of the sea bed with associated high financial penalties, along with the additional financial burden of installing monitoring equipment and hosting observers at their own cost.”

However, the Fisheries Act's supporters remained defiant. Keith Carroll, president of the National Fisheries Association, said: “I guess the Government would be going to court to fight against the CFRF. They are taking the government to court, not us. This Act is a good thing. We have to reserve this for future generations.”

Mr Carroll said he has seen the damage Dominican fishermen have done to the seabed, adding that “almost every Bahamian diver can tell you about how they operate".

Philip Neilly, owner of the fishing vessel Beyond Measure from the Current, Eleuthera, said: “These Dominicans come in here and destroy our waters like they did their waters. They cracked the conch on the bottom, just destroying the bottom itself.” He said by doing this they destroy the conch bed and the breeding ground for other marine life.

Responding to the legal challenge that the CFRF is mounting, Mr Neilly said: “It's unconstitutional for them being here from the break. Go find another job. That's how I feel about it. We have to reserve our fishing industry for generations to come.”

Ralph Murray, owner of the fishing vessel, The Electa, said: “If we're speaking solely upon the terms of Dominicans fishing in The Bahamas, I am 100 percent in support of the Fisheries Act. This should have been done 25 years ago and it might have resolved some of the current issues that we're faced with now.

"This is only a result of not dealing with the problem 25 years ago. That doesn't change the fact that if it was right not to allow them fishing privileges then, then it's right not to allow them fishing privileges now. To me it's unbelievable that one of our few natural resources we're allowing to be compromised.

“What happens is the Dominicans that have legal status here, during the offseason they return to the Dominican Republic and fish on boats coming out of the Dominican Republic in our offseason. So they're getting two bites at the apple one time.”

Kevin Deveaux, owner of the fishing vessel, the Lu Lu, said of Dominicans married to Bahamian women: “We don't want them. We don't want them to be here to fish. If they want to be in this country they could find something else to do.”