Fishing industry in crisis
Fewer fishermen and smaller annual catches tell the tale of a struggling trade, according to industry insiders.
The recently released 2017 Environmental Statistics Compendium reveal that fish landings for 2016 totalled 394 metric tonnes; a drop of more than 100 metric tonnes compared with 2012.
Meanwhile, the survey also suggests that an 8 per cent drop in registered fishermen for 2016 accounted for 9,403 fewer hours at sea compared with the previous year.
Fishermen told The Royal Gazette that operating costs were pushing people away from the industry, while the lack of hotels meant there was not the market in Bermuda to make it a sustainable profession.
“Unfortunately it’s a dying industry,” fisherman Allen DeSilva said. “The numbers don’t work any more.
“The operating costs are so high now, and what with the downturn in the economy and the lack of hotels, even when the fish are biting we are limited to how much we can catch.
“Before we could keep catching the big fish because there was always somewhere to sell them, but now there are fewer hotels, and if you get a big catch the market becomes completely saturated.”
Mr DeSilva, who has fished in Bermuda for more than four decades and runs Mako Charters, added: “These days the season for charter fishing is just three months in Bermuda; you can’t live off that, so you have to be able to do another trade. “I have a boat in Grenada at the moment because there simply isn’t the demand in Bermuda in the off season.
“It’s not the business that you want your children to go into. The fish are still there but if you cannot sell the fish, that makes it very hard. I think you’ll see fewer and fewer choosing this profession in the years to come.”
The latest compendium shows that tuna and the pelagic group of fish were the most popular catch in 2016; but the size of the catch had dropped from 188mT in 2012 to 142mT in 2016.
Grouper figures show three years of decline from 2014, while the Jack catch had also reduced by about 25mT in 2016 compared to 2012
The island’s total fish landings, including bait and shell fish, has reduced from 510mT in 2012 to 394mT in 2016 and has shown a decrease year on year for five years.
Fisherman Michael Barnes said: “There are certainly less fishermen in the game now because it costs a lot of money to stay in the game. It’s just a huge investment to try and make money.
“There are also more fish getting sold under the table than there are over the table; that’s just the way it is and that has always been the case.
“I’m out fishing some days and there are 12 or 13 boats fishing; and I would say probably only two or three have licences.
“It seems like if we have a good year, the authorities then impose restrictions like the length of the season of the area we can fish.”
In 2016, 277 registered fishermen spent a total of 67,709 hours at sea; a sharp drop since 2012 when there were 356 registered fishermen who spent just over 85,700 hours at sea.
Not only has the number of fishermen dropped from 356 in 2012, but the number of licences handed out has declined from 200 in 2012 to 176 in 2016. In 2016, the total hours at sea per licence figure reached a five-year low of 385, compared to 429 in 2012.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources said: “Yearly fish catches can vary due to a number of reasons including natural fluctuations of fish stocks, changes to the numbers of people actively fishing, shifts in the fish species targeted, and declines in fish stocks.
“That is why the Department of Environment and Natural Resources compares annual landings to long-term averages, and for the most part the 2016 landings are similar to, or greater than, the 15-year averages.
“The decline in registered fishermen and licences is due primarily to a change in reporting starting from 2013. There are 197 licences in the industry but each year there are a number of licence deferrals due to inoperable vessels. Now, only the number of active licences in a given year is reported.”