An East End man who pleaded guilty to unlawful possession of a turtle taken from Cayman waters was sentenced to three months imprisonment after appearing in Summary Court last week.
The turtle, estimated to weigh just over 100 pounds, was still alive when officers saw it at the residence of Carlyle McAllen Dixon on 29 April this year. The officers released it back into the sea outside the reef.
Dixon, 40, was not accused of taking the turtle from the sea. He told officers he had purchased it for $200 and taken it home with the intention of butchering it for food. He admitted knowing it was illegal to be in possession of a turtle taken from Cayman waters without a licence.
According to facts set out by Crown Counsel Zarah Dickenson, a set of scales and a machete were found next to the turtle. She handed up a photograph of the turtle, which took up a significant portion of the truck tailgate on which it had been placed.
In passing sentence, Chief Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale noted that, although the turtle is protected in Cayman, the Marine Conservation Law provides for the legitimate catch of turtle by persons with a licence. This was, she said, ‘no doubt an attempt to preserve local heritage even while the law seeks to protect the turtle from extinction.’
However, she continued, it is unlawful to take or be in possession of a turtle without a licence. ‘I am informed by the Marine Officer present at Court today that to support the state’s conservation efforts, no new licences are being issued and that a total ban on catching turtles is being considered,’ she added.
The magistrate cited a 1997 case concerning unlawful fishing, in which the judge observed ‘Poaching …when all is said and done, is merely another form of theft.’
In Dixon’s case, given the size of the turtle, some of the meat may well have been sold by him to third parties, she said.
‘The unlawful capture and destruction of turtles and other endangered marine life will continue as long as the defendant and persons like him are willing to purchase what is unlawfully offered to them for sale. The poacher’s entire objective is to obtain money for his illegal activities. If no-one were willing to buy, much of the incentive for poaching would disappear.’
The sentence of the court, therefore, had to deter others. The magistrate said she was satisfied a custodial sentence was right because a financial penalty would not only be insufficient to deter ‘but would also fail to express the public outrage at what is a wanton disregard for the country’s conservation laws and the fact of the turtles’ endangered status.’
There are no guideline sentences for offences against the Marine Conservation Law, the magistrate said, but the maximum term of imprisonment is 12 months.
The magistrate took into account Dixon’s early plea, the fact that he had no previous convictions against the Marine Conservation Law and that the turtle was recovered alive and returned to the sea.
Dixon, who was not represented, was advised of his right to appeal within seven days.