On Friday (Nov 4) the Tribune reported comments by Agriculture and Marine Resources Minister V Alfred Gray on a ZNS radio talk show clarifying his role in a proposal to allow Chinese investment in the Bahamian fishing industry.
The minister said he had authorized the Bahamian ambassador to China, His Excellency Paul Gomez, to discuss possible investments with the Chinese. He also said Ambassador Gomez had raised the matter with the Bahamas National Trust (BNT) and other agencies.
“I gave permission for him to discuss those things and come back to me (with) recommendations,” Mr Gray was reported as saying.
Ambassador Gomez spoke briefly with Eric Carey (Executive Director of the BNT) and a representative of the Bahamas Reef Environment and Education Foundation (BREEF) about this matter. We wish to confirm that the conversation took place unexpectedly at an event in mid-October at the Melia Hotel organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Executive Director of the BNT and representatives from BREEF were presenters at an event focused on the environmental impact of Hurricane Matthew.
During a question and answer session, Ambassador Gomez asked if the Bahamian fishing sector had ‘maxed out’ or whether there were still opportunities that could be explored. We replied that that our fisheries were already under pressure, especially from poachers. Just this past Friday, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force intercepted and captured two vessels from the Dominican Republic with 50 illegal fishermen, who were poaching in the Southern Bahamas.
Ambassador Gomez said he had been charged by the government to develop a paper exploring the potential for Chinese investment in both the agricultural and fisheries sectors. The Ambassador stated that his intent was to seek to convince the Chinese government to commit to a $2.1 billion investment over a 10-year period.
The BNT and BREEF representatives both expressed deep concern about this proposal and immediately advised against such an idea.
Later – at our insistence – BNT’s Executive Director and Director of Science and Policy met with Ambassador Gomez and Eugene Newry, from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Representatives from BREEF were also present.
At this meeting we reiterated our concerns, pointing out that that the Chinese fishing fleets are considered one of the greatest threats to the sustainability of global fisheries.
During the discussion, Ambassador Gomez suggested that with the stated intent of the government to support the creation of more marine protected areas, it might be seen unreasonable for environmental groups to oppose attempts by the government to encourage more fishing in Bahamian waters, outside of designated marine protected areas.
We advised The Ambassador that our current active fishery stocks are either at capacity or are on the road to collapse. We have scientific evidence that Nassau Grouper and, to a lesser degree, the Spiny Lobster must be carefully managed to avoid the very real possibility of commercial extinction, as has already happened in so many of our Caribbean neighbours.
The BNT advised His Excellency that scientific assessments of our pelagic fish stocks would be necessary before any informed discussion about a possible expansion of the fishery sector can take place.
Ambassador Gomez said he planned to meet with Bahamian fishermen to see if there was any interest in joint ventures with Chinese capital to expand into areas that are not traditionally exploited.
We also advised that although we did not necessarily hold a strong opinion about possible investment in the agricultural sector on Andros, His Excellency’s proposal appeared to conflict with current government policy, which takes account of the fragile ecosystems that Andros supports.
We referenced specifically the Andros Ecosystem-Based Master Plan funded by the Inter-American Development Bank that is currently being formulated by technical experts in the Office of the Prime Minister.
The BNT has written to Minister of Environment Hon. Kenred Dorsett, reiterating our concerns, and recommending extreme care and caution in any advancement of this idea.
The BNT is a non-governmental, non-profit, membership organisation working to protect Bahamian natural resources by building a network of national parks and promoting environmental stewardship.