Gone are the days of 100 charters a year’
Smaller catches and a tough fishing charter market have made life harder for the industry.
John Barnes, a veteran fisherman, said the industry had struggled because of to the effect of now-banned fish pots on stocks and the inconsistent nature of game fish.
He said: “It will probably never come back to the way it used to be.
“The fishpot ban in the 1990s was really too late. When that happened, we started looking at the pelagic species like wahoo, tuna and dolphin.
“For those fisheries, it’s dependent on whether the fish come or not.
“It’s less to do with us and more to do with El Niño, El Niña and what the other fisheries out there do.”
Mr Barnes added: “One indicator is to look at the billfish tournaments.
“We had some bumper years and then, with the same amount of effort or even more effort, the total number of fish drop off. For whatever reason, they don’t come.”
He said that this year’s Royal Gazette Wahoo Tournament resulted in about 40 fish being weighed but previous years had seen more than 70.
Mr Barnes added: “This year the quality of fish was good, but numbers were on the low end.”
He said that charter boats have had a harder time finding clients, in part because of the high cost of a visit to Bermuda.
Mr Barnes added some potential visitors had picked less expensive destinations like Costa Rica instead.
He said problems in getting charters had also affected commercial fishing.
Mr Barnes explained: “Most of the younger generation who started after the fish pot ban focus on the trolling and chumming, fishing for wahoo and tuna.
“A lot are pretty much dependant on getting charters because every day can be fishing day, but not every day is catching day. At least if you have a charter and have a lacklustre day you get paid for it.
“Gone are the heady days where 100 charters a year are the norm. Somebody doing well now might be doing 40.”
Mr Barnes said more could be done to support the industry by promoting the island as a fishing destination, particularly as vacation rentals had helped to lower the cost of a vacation.
He added: “There is probably some room for expansion. Perhaps a bit more marketing and pictures.
“There are people willing to pay money to go fishing in different places.”
Allen DeSilva of Mako Charters said his 2018 season was good, but that he only worked the “high season” for charters — between May and August.
He said: “Obviously, the fish stocks have a much greater impact on the commercial fisherman’s livelihood than it does on the charter fisherman.
“Nowadays, like in many industries, you see people doing more than one job, so you see more and fisherman now doing both commercial and charter fishing to make ends meet.”
Catch figures for 2018 are not available yet, but government statistics released in December showed that fishermen caught 385 metric tonnes of fish in 2017 — nine tonnes less than in 2016.
The tuna and pelagic fish catch increased from 142 tonnes to 151 tonnes and the snapper catch rose from 47.9 tonnes to 53.5 tonnes.
But those increases were countered by a decline in the catch of grouper from 64 tonnes to 45.1 tonnes and in jacks, which dropped from 53.2 tonnes to 41 tonnes.
Fishermen also recorded more time at sea than the previous year.
They logged a total of 74,019 hours fishing in 2017 compared to 67,709 hours the year before.
Part of the increase was attributed to an increase of 48 in the number of registered fisherman, up from 277 in 2016 to 325 in 2017.
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