TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Florida wildlife officials expressed concern Wednesday that the government of the Bahamas is in talks with China to split fishing rights in waters east of Florida.
State Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Executive Director Nick Wiley said the potential deal, as reported, could impact Florida's commercial and sport-fishing industries.
"China, their interests in this, would get exclusive access to fisheries in Bahamian waters," Wiley said. "A lot of people may not realize this, but the boundary between the United States waters and Bahamian waters is still in dispute. It's still not been clarified, so that further makes this an issue."
The government of the Bahamas hasn't released details of the negotiations.
The Nassau Guardian newspaper has reported that the government of the Bahamas has given the green light to its embassy in Beijing to pursue agricultural and fishing partnerships with China. The proposal reportedly could bring $2.1 billion in cash, along with agricultural and farming equipment, into the Bahamian economy, over 10 years.
The proposal by the Bahamian government, according to the Guardian, states: "While realization of a reasonable return on an investment in agriculture is a relatively slow process, requiring substantial capitalization over many years, participating companies in the initiative will within months of commencement of operations realize positive cash flow from the sale of seafood."
Under the reported terms of the deal, the government would lease to 100 companies --- each jointly owned by Chinese and Bahamians shareholders --- 10,000 acres in Andros Island, along with fishing licenses.
"It is anticipated that the agricultural products and the seafood will be used either for local consumption or will be exported to China or the U.S.A. for sale," the proposal says. "The management of participating companies will resolve to do what is in their best interest."
Commercial fishing for conch, lobster, snapper and grouper are mainstays of the Andros Island's economy. However, the indication is that the Chinese firms want to target dolphin, kingfish, marlin, tuna and wahoo.
Wiley said the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has reached out to the government of the Bahamas for additional details.
"It's something we really need to figure out what is going on. We really don't understand it yet," said Commissioner Robert Spottswood, the president of a Key West real-estate development company. "But the potential impact for us in the Keys, in Florida and for the U.S., of the Chinese government getting involved in fishing in the Bahamas could certainly affect the balance of what is going on in fisheries in South Florida."