NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The Senate yesterday passed the Fisheries Act, 2020, and an amendment to the Immigration Act that prevents non-Bahamians from engaging in commercial fishing in the nation.
The bills were passed just after 1pm in the Upper Chamber with unanimous support, though there were acute concerns from both sides ranging from enforcement of certain provisions to the exclusion of foreign spouses of Bahamian women, which former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham has called “pointedly discriminatory”.
While acknowledging criticisms of the Fisheries Bill, 2020, Attorney General Carl Bethel suggested that preserving a part of the economy exclusively for Bahamians does not offend the fundamental principle of marriage equality in The Bahamas.
In a letter to the editor, Ingraham said he was disappointed the Free National Movement (FNM) would implement a “pointedly discriminatory” provision in the bill, which would prevent the foreign spouses of Bahamians from engaging in commercial fishing in The Bahamas.
To the criticisms on the immigration side of the matter, Bethel said “it doesn’t quite logically follow”.
He said on the issue of full marriage equality there must be, at some point, “absolute equality”.
The attorney general said if the government could find a way to do it without the “PLP (Progressive Liberal Party) trying to jam us” and the PLP could do so without the FNM seeking to jam them, a third attempt at a referendum on gender equality should be held before the midway point of the next administration.
He said anyone who marries a Bahamian woman, from the day he is married, can apply for Bahamian citizenship, but there remains a concern about marriages of convenience, though the process to verify the genuineness of the marriages is limited.
Both referendums in 2002 and 2014 to address gender-based discrimination in the Constitution failed.
During debate on the Fisheries Bill, 2020, which would repeal the current Fisheries Resources (Jurisdiction and Conservation) Act, 1977, Bethel said the bill was about “carving out a space for ordinary Bahamians”.
“We’re dealing with humble Bahamians,” Bethel said in the Senate.
“We’re dealing with people living in some of the most hard-pressed Family Islands who have managed to make our marine resource a viable source of income for them, their families and their communities.”
According to the bill, no person shall engage in fishing, or be employed on a commercial fishing vessel for fishing other than sports fishing in the fisheries waters; and use or be employed on a commercial fishing vessel licensed under this act for fishing other than charter sports fishing, unless that person is a citizen of The Bahamas.
The bill was passed in the House of Assembly last Wednesday.