Blacktip Island fisherman militia members set out Thursday morning to reinforce their Blacktip Underwater Marine Park blockade.
An anti-government fisherman militia Wednesday seized Blacktip Island’s world-renowned Blacktip Underwater Marine Park, demanding scuba diving there be banned and the mooring sites returned to local fishermen.
Militia members armed with pole spears, hand lines and fishing poles tied skiffs to all mooring balls off the coast and blocked shore access to the park.
The action is the latest in a series of fisherman versus scuba diver confrontations on the small Caribbean island.
“The government had no right to set this stretch of coast aside for foreigners. No right to outlaw fishing,” local fisherman Dermott Bottoms said. “This is generations of resentment finally boiling over.
“We’re a democracy, you know, and no one voted on the park, or was even asked about it,” Bottoms said. “This is our vote to ban divers. It’s our water. We’re taking it back.”
The action has divided families in the small community.
“Scuba tourism’s our only industry,” said Sandy Bottoms, owner of Sandy Bottoms Beach Resort and Dermott Bottoms’ cousin. “With the park shut down, there’s no reason for divers to come here. This’s killing us. I got payroll to meet, mouths to feed, a swimming pool to pay for.
“Dermott and his buddies waving gaff hooks at people doesn’t help, either,” Sandy Bottoms said. “They can say those spears are for defense all they want, but our guests are intimidated.”
The protestors defended their right to carry fishing implements.
“These are legal pole spears,” Dermott Bottoms said. “Gaff hooks, too. Some divers get scared, that’s their doing, not ours. I’ll give up my fishing pole when they pry it from my cold, dead hands.”
Visiting scuba divers are angry at not being able to dive in the park.
“I don’t give a wrasse’s ass what these yahoos are protesting,” Eagle Ray Divers guest Leah Shore said. “I paid a ton on money to come here and look at fish, and by God, that’s what I mean to do.”
Violence was averted Thursday afternoon when island authorities stopped a group of divers wielding tank bangers from storming the militia’s lines.
“We nipped this one before things got ugly,” Island Police Constable Rafe Marquette said. “Bussed the divers over to the east side and told them that was a marine park, too.
“We’ve hesitated to confront militia members for fear of things escalating,” Marquette said. “If we try to force the fishermen out, a peaceful situation could turn violent. Also, there’s about 35 of them and only one of me.”
Militia members, meanwhile, vow they won’t leave anytime soon.
“Happiness is a warm hand line spool,” Bottoms said. “‘Specially when you whack it upside some bureaucrat’s pointy head.”