NASSAU, BAHAMAS — The government’s decision to limit commercial fishing to only Bahamians will impact many families who rely on the industry to feed their children and survive, said several Bahamian women married to foreign fishermen.
The Senate has passed the Fisheries Act, 2020, and an amendment to the Immigration Act that prevents non-Bahamians from engaging in commercial fishing in the nation.
Government MPs, including Agriculture Minister Michael Pintard, have pointed to concerns of Bahamian fishermen regarding unsustainable fishing practices by some non-Bahamians, as well as unsupported allegations that foreign fishermen have contract marriages with Bahamian women to facilitate employment.
One woman, who spoke to Eyewitness News under the condition of anonymity, said she has been married for nearly 20 years and has two children — who attend private school.
Her husband brought in the most money and was the breadwinner of the house.
“You can’t take the stick and beat everyone with it,” she said, responding to the allegations of marriages of conveniences.
“I’m in it for the long haul. At the end of the day, that’s ridiculous.
“I’m really deeply hurt this government don’t care about me or anyone else who are married to foreigners.
“I’m not one of them who marry for money because when I meet my husband, he ain’t had a dollar.”
She called the allegations of contract marriages “bulls***”.
The mother of two claimed the changes to the law completely cut out Bahamian women from the commercial fishing industry, stating that she does not know of many, if any, fisherwomen.
She insisted it is not realistic that Bahamian women will be able to benefit directly from the industry, so the bill is only targeting foreigners who are married to Bahamian women.
“It’s inhumane. I don’t agree with this.”
She added that she was heartbroken when her teenage son asked her why she can’t pass her rights on as a Bahamian and whether his father will be able to work again.
“It’s sickening when you have your children feeling the pinch of what’s going on.”
The bills were passed with unanimous support in both the Parliament and the Senate, though there were acute concerns from both sides ranging from enforcement of certain provisions to the exclusion of foreign spouses of Bahamian women.
Former Prime Minister Hubert Ingraham has come out against the government’s decision to limit commercial fishing to only Bahamians — a move that would discriminate against Bahamian women and their spouses.
In a letter to the editor, Ingraham said he was moved to publicly support the position of former Deputy Prime Minister Peter Turnquest, who raised the issue during a debate in Parliament last week.
Minister of Agriculture Michael Pintard, who led debate on the compendium of amendments, noted that while both administrations have missed the opportunity to create parity in the Constitution for men and women, there are some “carve-outs” that Bahamian citizens are entitled to.
He compared the exclusivity of the commercial fishing industry to Bahamian citizens being able to serve in government or serve as police officers.
“This is one of the very few areas carved for Bahamians and while I am sympathetic, I am deeply concerned about any business who feels they would be adversely affected,” he said.
“My primary responsibility is to protect the limited Bahamian resources for Bahamians who are right now trying to seek out an existence, a livelihood in this country.”
Pintard encouraged those spouses to apply for citizenship but simultaneously pointed to the need to adjudicate applications for citizenship.
However, another Bahamian woman married to a foreign fisherman said she has been taking steps for many years to apply for citizenship.
She noted, however, that due to financial reasons, she and her husband continue to put the move on hold.
“That don’t happen overnight,” the woman said.
“We could go back and find the money again. But will he be able to work until that comes through? Will he be denied ways to go to work?
“I could spend all the money. I could hustle all the money, don’t eat, don’t pay no bills and give it to immigration and then he still has to be approved.”
She insisted that her husband is willing to go through the process but they do not have the time or the luxury to wait.
“If that’s a quick fix, I’ll find that money quick… But I don’t want to do it and it’s denied or takes forever.”
She added that, given the circumstances, they are seeking legal advice regarding the issue.