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Minister defends marine plan in face of harsh criticism from fishermen

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On the back foot: Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, fields questions at the opening night of public talks on the Blue Prosperity Plan (Image supplied)

Plans to safeguard a portion of Bermuda’s exclusive waters are modest compared with what Britain might impose if the island fails to act, home affairs minister Walter Roban has warned.

Mr Roban spoke after the Government’s “Blue Prosperity” marine conservation plan got a harsh reception from fishermen during the first of a series of public meetings, which continue tomorrow at the East End.

Mr Roban told The Royal Gazette the heated criticism of the plan, unveiled last month, was “absolutely expected”.

But he said opponents angered by the proposal to put 20 per cent of Bermuda’s exclusive economic zone under protection needed to get real.

“This is the legal reality – we have to remember we are still a British Overseas Territory,” Mr Roban said on Friday.

“Our international waters and the seas outside our inner waters come under the jurisdiction of the British Government.

“And let me be clear, the British themselves have committed to much higher protection of their waters than we have.”

He said the UK could legally impose 30 per cent protection on Bermuda’s EEZ, or higher, in the absence of a local management plan.

Mr Roban said he had been accused of “selling Bermuda’s ocean waters off to the British Government”.

“I’ve also been told I have sold Bermuda’s waters to private companies, and that the Waitt Foundation has come to take over, and that the Blue Halo has returned.”

Fisherman addressing the forum last Thursday night in Hamilton were sceptical of the foundation, a non-governmental organisation for ocean conservation that has been closely involved in drafting the plan.

Others wanted assurances that the Government was not returning to the more ambitious Blue Halo scheme.

Mr Roban told the Gazette: “We are not working with Blue Halo.

“This is a Bermudian-led project. The decisions will be made by Bermudians, and not by anybody from outside.”

His remarks went further at last Thursday’s public forum, when Mr Roban told fishermen: “We are not having Blue Halo again – they came here and frankly disrespected the fishing community.”

He said afterwards that he had come to the meeting anticipating opposition to the proposal.

“The whole purpose of the exercise was to secure information,” Mr Roban said.

“It’s for those who have questions, the critics and those who need information – but also to inform the public of the draft plan, and that they have an opportunity to be part of shaping the plan.”

The wide-ranging Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme, a work in progress since 2019, began with the signing of a memorandum of understanding.

Part of the draft proposal recommends protecting 20 per cent of the waters falling within Bermuda’s exclusive economic zone, which extends 200 nautical miles, or 230 miles, offshore.

One fisherman at last week’s forum questioned why Mr Roban had not sought public consultation ahead of signing the MOU for putting aside one-fifth of the marine zone for conservation.

The minister responded that the MOU was an agreement but not legally binding – adding: “We agreed to it because we believe that’s reasonable.”

Final say lies with the Bermuda Government, he told the audience at St Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church Hall.

Following the meeting, he told the Gazette: “The argument some of our fisherman have made is we do not need additional management.

“But the reality is that, around the world, those doing nothing are experiencing depletion.”

Tomorrow night’s meeting will be held at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences in St George’s.

It will be followed on September 28 by a public forum in St James Church Hall in Somerset.

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Published September 20, 2022 at 9:13 am (Updated September 20, 2022 at 9:13 am)

Minister defends marine plan in face of harsh criticism from fishermen

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