Community service for conch poaching

Taking conch during closed season
resulted in a sentence of community service for a man who was found with 114 of
them last October.

James Douglas Ebanks, 52, has been
ordered to perform 50 hours of community service after he admitted taking the
conch during closed season. He said he needed them to feed his children.

“Poaching is akin to theft,” Chief
Magistrate Margaret Ramsay-Hale said after he pleaded guilty in May. “You are
stealing from children yet unborn. If you take more than you are entitled to,
there will be no more for your grandchildren to enjoy.”

While the magistrate said she has
sentenced people to prison for similar offences, in this case she took into
account the fact that Mr. Ebanks had a medical condition that would be
compromised by a prison sentence.

Ms Ramsay-Hale said Mr. Ebanks had
done well on probation for a different charge and that this offence had
occurred before the probation order was put in place. Taking the conch was his
first offence under the Marine Conservation Law. His offence was considered a
commercial enterprise, involving more conch than Ebanks could have used
personally.

She also considered that the conch
were still alive and put back into the sea. Consequently, she ordered community
service as an alternative to prison.

Around 8am on 16 October, 2009, an
officer of the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service Marine Unit was on routine
patrol in the vicinity of Barkers Head, West Bay, when he saw Mr. Ebanks
unloading conch from a kayak onto the ironshore, said Crown Counsel Tanya
Lobban. Mr. Ebanks tried to leave in the kayak when he saw the officer, but the
officer caught up with him. Mr. Ebanks admitted that he had taken the conch,
which were then photographed and returned to the sea.

Ms Lobban said Mr. Ebanks admitted
knowing it was closed season. He told officers he was unemployed and had
children to feed and that he “owed money to the food woman”.

The magistrate adjourned the matter
so she could receive a probation report on Mr. Ebanks last week.

“I’m having a difficult time
explaining why this offence is so serious,” she said. “People used to walk out
and take the conch, but Cayman has changed.”

Closed season for conch is from May
to October. In open season, the limit is five conch per person per day or 10
per vessel if two or more people are aboard.