The Bahamas is home to an abundance of marine animals. However, due to pressure from the development of tourism and commercial fishing, these animals are threatened with captivity and overfishing. At a recent United Nations Ocean Conference, a Bahamian Minister advocated for more marine life protection while echoing these concerns. This week guest writer Teshe Rolle will discuss the main legal provisions on these issues, and whether they are effective.
What are the main pieces of legislation on Marine Animals in The Bahamas?
The Bahamas is a signatory to many international agreements. Two important examples are The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and the Protocol Concerning Specifically Protected Areas and Wildlife (SPAW) in the Wider Caribbean Region.
These agreements help protect marine animals in The Bahamas by granting powers to create and enforce relevant laws, cultivating accountability at an international level, and initiating measures that have helped replenish Bahamian marine animal populations like sharks.
The most relevant Acts on captivity and overfishing are the Marine Mammal Protection Act 2005 and the Fisheries Act 2020. Laws are enforced by different agencies including National Park Officials, the Marine Support Unit of the Royal Bahamas Police Force, and most importantly, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force.
The Marine Mammal Protection Act 2005 (‘the Marine Mammal Act’) and the Marine Mammal Protection (General) Regulations 2005 forbid the import, export, ownership or captivity, sale, scientific research, or transport of marine mammals without a licence, which can, if compatible with the relevant international agreements, be granted by the Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries.
The Fisheries Act 2020 (‘the Fisheries Act’) was entered into force in June 2021. It repealed the Fisheries (Jurisdiction and Conservation) Act 1977. In summary it aims to enforce stringent regulations like closed fishing seasons on commercial fishing due to the overfishing of various marine species.
Non-compliance with both acts can lead to fines and/or imprisonment.
Do the current laws sufficiently protect marine animals from captivity and overfishing?
The Bahamas provides a habitat for a host of different animals in its marine and coastal environments. The legislation and Regulations detailed above go some way in protecting the habitats but there is concern that they do not go far enough.
The Marine Mammal Act 2005 was no doubt brought about by concerns within the marine community about marine animals in captivity. More weight is attached to the ‘proposed measures’ of captive facilities than uniform prerequisites when granting licences; likely due to the desire to include marine mammals as tourist attractions. In The Queen v Gray  for example, a group of dolphins held in captivity by a developer of a popular tourist hub faced significant risks including deafness from ocean noise and pollution.
The Fisheries Act contains more provisions that are less advantageous to local Bahamian fishermen than their large commercial counterparts in Spanish Wells. Despite an uptick in certain species’ populations in 2021, opinions on the impact of the Fisheries Act are premature, and the increase could stem from other conservation efforts.
Moreover, enforcement remains a problem as with endless kilometres of open sea to patrol, the Royal Bahamas Defence Force is strained for resources, and with other enforcement agencies not holding the same powers this can lead to any legislation having limited effect.
To aid marine animal protection, the Marine Mammal Act should be reformed to establish a higher threshold for granting licences. Enforcement agencies need more resources and powers of arrest. Finally, studies should be executed to determine the effectiveness of the new Fisheries Act.
This post is not legal advice and should not be relied on as such. If you require legal advice on animal protection laws please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.