Coast Guard Sector Key West fisheries law enforcement and the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Office of Law Enforcement teams issued six Lacey Act violations in the past two years for not having a Bahamian fishing permit while fishing in Bahamian waters.
In order to understand the Bahamian and U.S fishing zones, the first place to start is knowing where the Exclusive Economic Zone is located. The EEZ generally extends approximately 200 miles off the U.S. coast; however, The Bahamas is less than that. Depending on where a person is going fishing, the distance between The Bahamas and Florida needs to be calculated.
“If you are fishing between Key Largo and Red Bay, Bahamas, that’s approximately 140 miles,” said Jeremy Munkelt, a NOAA fisheries enforcement officer. “Divide that number by two and you get 70 miles, which means fishing off Key Largo within 70 miles subjects you to U.S. fishing law.”
Other areas, such as offshore from Marathon, the distance gets shortened due to its close proximity with Cay Sal, Bahamas.
“It is extremely important you check where the EEZ is in the particular area that you are fishing,” said Munkelt. “This can be done by locating the NOAA chart for the area you are in.”
If caught fishing outside of U.S. waters, fishermen are subject to the Lacey Act. An example violation is fishing in Bahamian waters without a permit and bringing the catch back to the U.S.
Overlapping jurisdictions can make sport fishing complicated, so it is important to know where you are fishing and the laws for the area on a state, federal, and international level.
“Fishing in Bahamian waters means you are subject to Bahamian fishing laws,” said Ensign Alex Hughes, Coast Guard Sector Key West fisheries enforcement. “When you come back to the U.S., you are subject to Bahamian and U.S. fishing laws.”
Common U.S. fishing violations include having more than 18 migratory fish, such as Kingfish, Dolphin, or Tuna, aboard a vessel at any time. In Florida, no vessel may have conches aboard.
Fishermen can use The Bahamian Click2Clear electronic system to declare entry into the country and pay for a permit, but it is still necessary to go in person and obtain official documentation. When leaving, it is also important to officially exit the country at the point-of-entry.
In The Bahamas, a person can be fined up to $100,000 and/or sent to prison for three years. Under the U.S. Lacey Act, a person can be fined up to $250,000 and/or sent to prison for five years.
For more information on Bahamian fishing laws, visit Bahamas.gov.bs.