Jamaica Imposes Record Fines on Turtle Poachers

KINGSTON, Jamaica, January 24, 2002 (ENS) - Her Honour Joyce Bennett today handed down the highest fines ever imposed in Jamaica for an environmental crime when she sentenced the captain and chief mate of the vessel Thunder Ridge for poaching conch and endangered sea turtles. The men were charged under the Wildlife Protection Act, the Aquaculture Act and the Fishing Industry Act.

Hondurans Clifford Meja and Ashley Hinds were each fined J$1 million (US$22,100) or 12 months in prison for unlawfully, handling, harvesting and processing conch without a licence. In addition, Meja was fined J$80,000 and Hinds was fined J$60,000 or six months imprisonment for possession of a protected animal, a hawksbill turtle.

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Endangered hawksbill turtle (Photo by Grytch Alan Smoot courtesy Texas Parks and Wildlife)
They were also fined J$1,000 or nine months imprisonment for fishing without a license and J$500 or six months imprisonment for fishing in a closed season for conch.

On January 16, the vessel Thunder Ridge was intercepted on the Pedro Banks. A quantity of conch and a hawksbill turtle was found on board and seized from the vessel. The captain, Meja, and chief mate Hinds were detained and taken ashore. Some time during the night, the crew fled with the vessel with an undetermined amount of conch and turtles on board. Meja and Hinds were taken to the Marine Police, and after investigations were made they were charged.

On January 23, the case was brought before Judge Bennett in the Half Way Tree Resident Magistrates Court, but the attorneys for the defendants asked for more time to take instructions on the charges under the Aquaculture Act.

Today, both men pleaded guilty to the charges before Judge Bennett and were sentenced.

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Bed of conch (Photo by G. Wenz courtesy NOAA)
Legal officer for the National Environment and Planning Agency, Carole Excell, says that Resident Magistrate Bennett should be commended for recognizing the importance of environmental matters and for charging such fines for offences involving the endangered species the hawksbill turtle and queen conch.

The cultural myth that eating turtle meat will enhance sexual prowess may be responsible for the demand for sea turtles in Jamaica. Brandon Hay, a member of the committee of the Jamaica based Sea Turtle Recovery Network, told the "Jamaica Gleaner" daily newspaper in July 2000, "There is a black market for sea turtles in Jamaica. It is sold on the beach if you know who to talk to."

"Most people know that it is illegal to consume turtle meat but they do it anyway. This is aided by the cultural myth that the meat, especially in turtle soup, is good for the libido," Hay said.