Lobster divers cap lowered
A cap of 450 recreational lobster divers is to be introduced for the 2018-19 season.
Walton Brown, the home affairs minister, said the number was cut from 500 last year, when only 412 lobster divers applied.
The Department of Environment and Natural Resources is concerned about the long-term health of Bermuda’s lobster population, particularly in shallow areas close to shore.
A spokeswoman said: “Bermuda’s lobsters are a resource shared between both the recreational lobster divers and the commercial lobster trap fishermen.
“Although commercial fishers operate in both deep and shallow water, the recreational divers can only catch lobsters in areas shallow enough for free-diving.
“This past season was the fifth consecutive season of below average commercial catches.
“While the number of lobsters caught per trap in the inshore areas was slightly up from the previous season, it was still 19 per cent lower than the 15-year average.
“The catch per trap is a standard measure that is an indication of the lobsters’ abundance.”
The ministry said divers licensed last season would only be able to get another one if they had already submitted their catch statistics to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
The spokeswoman added that 93 divers had not submitted any statistics.
Mr Brown said: “The number of lobster divers and commercial trap fishermen allowed in the fisheries during the upcoming season was decided in consultation with stakeholders after an analysis of the 2017-18 data.
“In addition to the reduction in lobster diver licences, the commercial trap fishery will have one less participant, meaning that there will be 27 trap fishermen this season.
“These numbers will be reviewed and adjusted as necessary with the sustainability of the fisheries in mind”.”
Stuart Joblin, a recreational lobster diver, said: “The Department of Environment and Natural Resources did contact the loose affiliation of lobster divers that spearheaded the discussion last season. They were proactive which was fantastic — they came to us in the early part of June.
“Last year there was zero communication and it was a drastic reduction. There were 90-something who did not submit statistics so they are not eligible.”
He added: “I don’t think it will have much of an impact on people who want to get their licence. If you want one, you should be able to get it but you have to follow the rules.
“I think they are making an effort to find a way for everybody who uses this resource to continue to enjoy it in a responsible manner.
“I do think 450 is reasonable.”
Mr Joblin added that the rules on the submission of catch statistics were fair.
He said: “If you have better data, you can make better decisions. Everybody has anecdotal evidence but unless it is reported in some sort of a meaningful, measurable fashion then it is just hearsay.”
Weldon Wade, a recreational lobster diver and an ocean conservationist, predicted the new cap would have little impact on anyone who wanted a licence.
Mr Wade said: “My first reaction when I saw the headline was, ‘oh no, here we go again’ because of what happened last year but it looks like they have done their due diligence and done some consultation.
“There are probably less than 450 people who are keen, avid recreational lobster fishermen.”
The lobster season opens on September 1. Licences will be issued on a first come, first served basis from August 6.
The deadline to report catch data, including no catches, for the 2017-18 season was April 30.
For more information on recreational lobster fishing licences, visit gov.bm/online-services/apply-recreational-lobster-diving-licence