Fight against fish poachers hampered by lack of resources, says scientist
The fisheries department will find it difficult to catch and punish poachers because of a lack of resources, a marine biologist warned yesterday.
Thaddeus Murdoch, the former head of the marine research programme BREAM, said he supported a Government plan to crack down on lawbreakers with increased penalties for hunting protected species.
But he added that a lack of funding and a long shoreline could make it difficult for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to find poachers and enforce the rules.
Dr Murdoch said: “The enforcement teams are quite heavily under-resourced.
“They get paid quite poorly considering the dangers of their job – they’re out on their boats in bad weather and they might have to deal with unsavoury people.”
He added: “It’s a very dangerous job and I’m sure they could benefit from more training.
“We’re never going to catch everyone who breaks the law and the size of our shoreline doesn’t help with that.”
Dr Murdoch was speaking after Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, said that he hoped to increase the maximum penalty for catching or killing protected species, which at present has a penalty of a fine of up to $50,000 and two years imprisonment, after five parrotfish were found dead off St George.
Mr Roban added that the DENR would start an investigation into the offence.
The illegal fishing was revealed after free diver Natalie Price found the parrotfish remains as she hunted lionfish and posted a video on social media.
Dr Murdoch said that first-time offenders were more likely to get a lower penalty, which many poachers might consider to be “so low that nobody cares”.
He added that parrotfish poaching was not uncommon, particularly in the St George’s area.
Dr Murdoch said: “People have been poaching parrotfish in that particular bay for years.
“I’ve come across people doing it, I’ve heard stories about people doing it – there’s somebody in that neighbourhood who’s been doing it for a long time.”
He added: “It’s probably more of a matter of people just not thinking they’re going to get caught or they don’t know what it is – maybe they don’t even know that parrotfish are protected to begin with.”
Dr Murdoch said that higher minimum punishments would be the best way to crack down on poachers.
He added that could happen if the maximum penalty was raised, but it was not guaranteed.
He added that the public could also play a role in bringing poachers to justice by keeping an eye out for suspicious behaviour and reporting it to the authorities.
Dr Murdoch said: “Certainly, shaming the people that are catching parrotfish is a good thing – we should be proud that we protect them and it’s shameful when people kill them because they’re endangering our economy and killing pretty fish that most people like.
“Bermuda does have a long coastline and it’s hard to keep track, but, at the same time, it’s pretty easy to see people doing silly things and we’re pretty good at slapping shame on people.”
Parrotfish have been a protected species since 1993 and it is illegal to capture, kill or sell them.