Carey: Bahamas must be tougher on illegal fishing or fresh reef fish may become extinct
“Seize vessels and they’ll get the message”
NASSAU, BAHAMAS — Real estate guru Mario Carey, a businessman and diver, is facing an uphill slog to get everyone on board to stop the illegal harvesting of Bahamian conch, fish and crawfish.
“I’ve been diving for more than 35 years and two weeks ago I went from Yellow Banks (north Exuma) to Sayle Rock (Eleuthera) without seeing a single grouper, hog fish [or] Margaret fish; not a conch, nothing,” he said.
“Yes, dolphin, or mahi-mahi were running, but the fish that feed on coral — not a one in six hours in the water.
“It was the first time in my life that ever happened and it was a hell of a wake-up call.”
Carey has been meeting with officials, helping to raise funds and awareness to add more monitoring tools to the arsenal that authorities have to spot and arrest those fishing illegally.
This week, he lauded a South Florida court after a judge fined 57-year-old Henry Danzig $200,000 for an illegal catch of nearly 170 fish caught off the reefs near Cay Sal Bank. The total catch weighed more than 500 lbs. Danzig and four others were on a 239-foot Contender when they were spotted and stopped re-entering US waters in the Florida Keys, where Danzig operated a restaurant and was known as a good neighbor who always shared his catch with whoever wanted fish.
“He paid a price — having to sell his boat to buy the Royal Bahamas Defence Force (RBDF) a new 30-foot Contender,” said Carey.
“It won’t bring back the 500-plus pounds of fish that Danzig took when he broke the Lacey Act, banning trafficking in illegal fish and wildlife, but I hope it sets an example.”
Carey wants the law to go further.
“We need to get tough and seize the vessels these criminals are using to catch fish from Bahamian waters and take them back to the US to sell,” he said.
“Some of these boats come over here on the pretense of a three-day sports fishing trip, but all they are is what they call in the trade ‘meat boats’. They come for the slaughter and the money they will reap from it when they return to Florida and in some cases, they even get the charter fee. It has to stop.”
Carey cited past fines that he says are so minor, the criminals — local and foreign — pay them off and are right back in the water, lines overboard and respect for the marine environment non-existent.
He credited the Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources, the RBDF, organizations like the Bahamas Reef Environmental Educational Foundation (BREEF), Bahamas National Trust (BNT), the Nature Conservancy, Save The Bays and Waterkeepers with driving up awareness.
“I think we have come a long way in terms of understanding how threatened our fish and conch stock is,” he said. “Now, all we have to do is get serious about enforcement. These people who illegally overfish for commercial gain in our country need to pay the price just like other criminals do, drug smugglers and human traffickers, and they need to have their vessels seized and spend time behind bars. The message will spread.”