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Environmental groups are wary about offshore fishing plans

The Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce has said engagement and consultation are key to ocean conservation (File photograph)

The Government must conduct a robust public consultation before the development of a sustainable offshore fishing industry, a conservation action group has said.

Plans to create a marine protected area that prohibits fishing – as well as a fishery – that could help to fuel the economy, originally set out in 2019, were revisited during last Friday’s Throne Speech.

A spokesman for the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce said: “Sustainability should be an overriding theme that is part of every conversation and embedded in every plan to do with future development of our marine resources, especially our fishery.

“We would expect the Government to engage with Department of Environment and Natural Resources and make public its recommendations with regards to any plans around our fishery.

“Key stakeholders and the public should be consulted, as well as independent NGOs such as the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences and BEST.”

Assessment of fish stocks and enforcement would also be key, the charity said.

The spokesman added: “Reliable and regular fish stock assessments need to be undertaken to guide decision making and update policy.

“Enforcement of our existing laws and regulations needs to be key and any legal loopholes closed to make it easier for fishing wardens to successfully prosecute those who are in breach.

“Any new development should be backed by a business plan that contemplates the above and demonstrates clearly that any near-term economic benefit does not impact the near- or long-term sustainability of our fishery.”

The Government’s plan to protect 20 per cent of an area of Bermuda’s waters known as the Exclusive Economic Zone would be “meaningless” unless the protection included the most environmentally sensitive areas, the spokesman added.

The plan falls under the Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Project, a partnership between the Government of Bermuda, Washington-based non-profit institution the Waitt Institute, and BIOS to “to foster the sustainable, profitable, and enjoyable use of ocean resources for present and future generations”.

The spokesman said inshore protection was crucial in sustaining any future fishery.

“We would like to see the government follow through on its commitment to protect 20 per cent of Bermuda's EEZ, which is also one of the main goals of the BOPP.

“The question is, what areas within our EEZ will that 20 per cent encompass? Our focus is to ensure that it includes the most environmentally sensitive areas (generally our nearshore waters) that are critical to the sustainability of our fishery and the protection of our reefs, as without this the exercise is meaningless. ”

The government announced in its Throne Speech that Bermuda is to become a test bed for renewable energy sources, a move BEST welcomed.

The spokesman added: “Having Bermuda be a testing ground for solar technology is interesting conceptually … and one that could inspire other opportunities for testing products and processes in Bermuda, provided of course that it would be in the best interest of the island.”

In 2019, the Ministry of Home Affairs signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Waitt Institute and BIOS to introduce BOPP.

The group said at the time that protection would cover at least 20 per cent of Bermuda's EEZ, 90,000 square kilometres out of 465,000 square kilometres of ocean, while a plan to improve ocean industries such as tourism and responsible fishing would be developed.

Bermuda has some year-round and seasonal no fishing zones. For more information. visit: https://www.gov.bm/bermudas-no-fishing-areas

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Published November 16, 2021 at 7:50 am (Updated November 16, 2021 at 7:50 am)

Environmental groups are wary about offshore fishing plans

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