Environment officers fighting poachers

16 seizures in five-month period

A haul of illegally caught conch and lobsters seized by the Department of Environment. - Photo: File

Lobster, conch, turtles and a parrot are among the illegally taken animals seized by environment enforcement officers in recent investigations, according to a report to the National Conservation Council.

Department of Environment officers confiscated animals or spearguns from poachers on 16 separate occasions, according to a report on their activity between April and August this year.

Where possible, the animals were returned to the wild, though some large hauls of lobster and conch were donated to the Pines Retirement Home and Meals on Wheels charity.

Mark Orr, chief enforcement officer, said the report represented a snapshot of what his officers were dealing with on a daily basis.

He said it detailed only cases where equipment was seized and what action was taken. It does not include incidents were no items were recovered.

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“We have a lot more cases, generally, but that is a good sample of the kind of activity we see,” he said.

The cases include nine incidents that are either currently going through the courts or are with the Department of Public Prosecutions for potential prosecution. In other, more minor incidents, suspects escaped with a warning.

In one case, two men were arrested for catching 24 fish with spearguns. In another incident, poachers took 18 conch and six lobster.

One man was found with a wild parrot, that had its wings clipped. The bird was released back into the wild after its “flying feathers” grew back, according to the report.

Mr. Orr said he believes most people accept and abide by conservation laws to protect species like lobster and conch. But he said a minority of committed poachers continued to ignore the rules.

“The general public is pretty good about it. Not everyone likes it, but they understand the need for it and they know we need these restrictions if they want their grandkids to enjoy the marine life too,” he said.

“Unfortunately, we have a handful of criminals that we are dealing with or hearing reports about on an almost weekly basis. It is a small percentage of people that are out there basically doing it as a job. They don’t care about preserving marine life for future generations.”

He said he was familiar with the argument that people had fished conch and lobster for generations and that some considered it their right to continue to do so, to feed their families.

“I grew up hearing that argument, but unfortunately we don’t have the reserves of marine life any more for anyone to go out and take 100 conch in one afternoon.”

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  1. I remember going out with Captain Marvin on the North Sound in 1982, when I first moved to these beautiful islands.

    There were about 15 guests on his boat and we were told to find some conchs, just 2 per person. Within a few minutes we found so many that we could pick and choose the biggest and nicest. Try that today and you’ll be lucky to find a handful of conch per boat.

    Eden Rocks used to be a fabulous dive site. As you entered the water you were surrounded by sergeant major and yellow tail snapper. Where are they now? Gone. And the reef itself is dead white rock rather than vibrant coral.

    Within half my likely lifetime this eco-system has been almost destroyed. Keep on poaching and there will be nothing left.

  2. Unfortunately, it is because of operators that promote the taking of conch, grouper etc. that we are in the situation that we are in. If there was no commercial market then things wouldn’t be half as bad as they are. Yes, the locals and other expat communities would have to be educated and policed, but if the conch wasn’t promoted as a tourist attraction the demand wouldn’t be as high, the population wouldn’t be so destroyed……I still see operators at Sandbar coming in and cleaning conch. The roadside stands on North Side all sell conch shells all year long. Most tourists are unaware that there is a conch/lobster/grouper season and that if they are purchasing “fresh” seafood out of season it is either frozen or poached.

  3. Thank God for today’s overworked and understaffed conservation officers! They perform a critical and underappreciated task in preserving future food stocks and our most valuable tourism attraction. Sadly, despite their valiant efforts the stocks continue to decline and much more still needs to be done soon, before the last few of several key species go locally extinct. Fishermen say that they will not accept new regulations without first seeing proof that the DOE is effectively enforcing the regulations currently in place. I absolutely agree that we need more enforcement, but steadfastly disagree that new regulations cannot be put into place at the same time that we improve enforcement… we must do everything that we can and soon if we are to save our most threatened species. All of the groupers: Nassau; Yellow Mouth; Yellow Fin; Black; Tiger plus Cubera Snapper are critically depleted. Our largest three species of Parrotfish are also severely depleted. All other edible species are quickly heading in the same direction as they have now become the principle catch in place of our preferred, but now hard to come by species. We’re losing a numbers game that has resulted from our tremendous resident population and astronomical tourist increase since the ’60’s. Too many mouths to feed and too few fish. Do you know that big, mature groupers are in excess of 20 year of age? Did you know that egg production goes up exponentially with age? It has been well more than 20 years now since those fish were common on our reefs, but have become rare instead. It is way past time for us on the whole to realize that regardless how we came to this level of reef fish “poverty”, we all have to change our spending habits or we will soon be bankrupt. Our current fishing practices have been unsustainable for more than 30 years (by my observation). New regulations or not, if you don’t need to catch a reef fish for dinner to avoid starving, please leave it on the reef for the benefit of all. If you understand the severity of the situation and would like to help, please support the DOE and Conservation Council in their attempts to offer new legislation and encourage our legislators to act soon. Enhancing enforcement and expanding the marine parks should be the first step, but I believe not the last because of the severity of rapid depletion of key species that likely began about 50 years ago and the slow response that we’re still waiting for today. This decimated bank account is still running down. Please see my 18 minute TedX talk if you want to hear more about my observations from more than 5,000 dives on our reefs over the past 34 years. Ask our old timers about it while they are still with us. Those who truly know what “fishnin” the reef was like in it’s hay day are also rapidly disappearing. “No Suh, it ain’t like it used to be… no Suh! Finally, everyone can download the DOE’s “Siren” marine resources laws “app” to your phone for fast, on-site reference to the laws so you can be part of the solution. Let’s help our enforcement officers stop the poaching!