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‘Blue investment facility’ to be developed, meeting on marine plan told

Cheryl Mapp, left, a government specialist in blue economy plans, with home affairs minister Walter Roban and Tammy Warren, senior marine resources officer with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (Photograph by Jonathan Bell)

A marine conservation plan met more opposition from the island’s fishermen last night in the latest public forum to discuss the plan.

But the meeting on the proposed Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme also heard that 18 projects have been highlighted as “suitable for investment” in developing new uses for the island’s waters, with a “blue investment facility” to be developed over the next three years.

Cheryl Mapp, the Government’s Blue Economy specialist, told the gathering at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences that smaller focus groups on the proposal would start meeting next Thursday.

The management plan for Bermuda’s marine territory, which includes a proposal to set aside 20 per cent of the island’s exclusive economic zone for conservation, totalling 90,000 sq km, was unveiled by Walter Roban, the home affairs minister, in August.

Along with a blue economy strategy, the proposal comes with a marine spatial plan outlining conservation areas, sites with potential for the development of renewable energy, and areas with potential for the restoration of habitats such as seagrass, mangroves and salt marsh, and coral reefs.

Tammy Warren, senior marine resources officer with the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, outlined the scale of protection, in which certain areas such as mangroves would be deemed “fully protected”, while others would be “highly protected” or “lightly protected” – a designation covering Bermuda’s entire marine EEZ.

Pelagic zones would offer protection of the sea floor while allowing surface fishing for species such as tuna.

The plan also proposes seasonal closure areas, and a “lobster reservoir” free of dredging or renewable energy development.

Dr Warren said the proposal would leave 3.8 per cent of Bermuda’s near-shore waters as fully protected, with no fishing – and 10.1 per cent of the reef platform, to a depth of 55 meters, as a no-take zone.

She added: “However, this is a draft marine spatial plan and we are seeking your input – please, please do not take this as a done deal.”

Most of the evening’s comments came from fishermen, with emotions running high for some who saw the proposal as stifling their chance for business.

One told the evening’s panel he wanted to know what had been budgeted to compensate fishermen for lost earnings, as well as what had been spent so far on putting the proposal together.

Ms Mapp said it was too early in the consultative process to put monetary figures – while Mr Roban said the proposal so far had “not cost any taxpayer money”.

“This has been done with the support of the Waitt Foundation,” Mr Roban said, naming the global non-profit group that partnered with Bios and the Government to launch the Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme three years ago.

“The Bermuda taxpayer has not paid a dime.”

An inshore fly fisherman told the group he worked providing a tourist service along the island’s shoreline.

He added that he did not want to have “some tree hugger” interfering in his livelihood.

“For me to be closed off in certain areas – you’re not going to stop my business,” he said.

A senior who said he had been fishing since 1990 lamented that the move would “take away our livelihoods at the swipe of a pen”.

“How much damage are we really doing with a rod and a reel and a hand line?”

He added: “I think I have stated my case – I hope that you sleep nights.”

Another wanted to know if fishing from the rocks off the shore would be allowed to continue, should the proposal be taken up.

Dr Warren said most areas of the shoreline would be open for fishing, with a few protected areas coming to the coast – in a stretch of the island’s southwestern shore, off Cooper’s Island and Fort St Catherine at the East End, and at a small area of the North Shore.

One sceptic said he was unmoved by reassurances, saying he would give the proposal his “full support” if he felt confident the plan would go ahead as it was being presented.

“You keep plugging that this is a Bermudian solution,” he said. “This is really irritating to me. We just found out that this whole thing is paid for by Waitt.”

Mr Roban said the island was “not indebted” for the support in drawing up the proposal, adding: “I take great issue with that – that’s not what happened.”

The minister closed out the evening by facing down a heckler.

“I understand people are passionate about this,” Mr Roban said. “I’m not interested in seeing anyone be stifled.

“This is a journey that I implore you all to continue to be a part of.”

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Published September 22, 2022 at 10:15 am (Updated September 23, 2022 at 6:16 pm)

‘Blue investment facility’ to be developed, meeting on marine plan told

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