Metal fish traps found in protected waters
Illegal metal fish traps have been found in a protected area, a top diver revealed yesterday.
Chris Gauntlett, owner of Blue Water Divers, said that the baited lines, which indiscriminately kill fish, had also been discovered at Eastern Blue Cut off Dockyard.
Mr Gauntlett added: “There have been three occurrences in the last month from zero before that.”
Fishermen and fisheries staff who have seen the contraptions said they were probably designed to target rockfish.
“It is in all ways, as far as what you can legally do there, against the law,” added Mr Gauntlett.
“It’s just a situation where you look at what’s being done and it’s pretty difficult to imagine that the people that are doing it, don’t know what they are doing is wrong.
“And that’s a pretty troubling state of affairs.”
He added: “You’re looking at a circle of damage coming from all kinds of different directions.
“It hurts the environment, it hurts the private person who may want to use that area for what it is intended for.
“And it hurts the people that are trying to run businesses, whether it is a fishing business or a diving business. It hurts everybody.”
Mr Gauntlett said it also painted Bermuda in a bad light for tourists who see the contraptions in protected areas because it “creates the view that Bermuda has an illegal fishing industry”.
He added: “That is a very negative image that everyone on all sides of the combined industries and government departments would absolutely want to avoid.”
Mr Gauntlett, one of the island’s most experienced divers, thought the lines and fishpots had been installed by scuba divers because of the complex types of knots used to anchor them to the reefs.
He explained: “For someone to be holding their breath and doing it seems unlikely, especially if the bait is a live fish.
“If they are doing it with scuba gear, that’s definitely illegal because you are not allowed to hunt anything with scuba gear unless you are hunting lionfish and for that you have to have the specific permit.”
He added: “So it’s probably the same people and they are going out there frequently to set whatever they are setting.”
Mr Gauntlett explained that the area had markers to show dive spots, including the popular Blue Hole site.
He added: “It’s a large area that is protected and what that means is that they can’t fish there and fishing includes spearfishing, lobster diving when they are in season, and so forth.”
“This is not the activity that is happening though. What is happening is that they are putting bait lines out there and cages out there with bait in them.”
Mr Gauntlett said the contraptions were found 30ft to 50ft in deep waters and at about 15ft in shallower areas. The finds have been reported to the Department of Fisheries.
He said: “Fisheries are keen to do something about it. They have been very responsive. They are obviously keeping a closer eye on that area as a result of what the reports are.”
But Mr Gauntlett felt the best way to deal with the problem was to prosecute the culprits.
His divers had done all they could do — remove the traps and share them online to make people aware of the problem.
Mr Gauntlett said: “If it is the one per cent chance that the person doesn’t know what they are doing is illegal, then hopefully social media will correct that problem.”
A Department of Fisheries spokeswoman said it would comment on the issue today.