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No secret deal behind marine conservation plans, says Roban

Juvenile fish in a seagrass bed (Photograph by Kim Holzer)

No secret deal exists behind Bermuda’s draft marine conservation plans that have drawn the ire of fishermen, the Minister of Home Affairs insisted yesterday.

Walter Roban spoke after the Fishermen’s Association of Bermuda threw down the gauntlet on the Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme on Thursday, branding the proposal unacceptable.

Allan Bean, the association’s chairman, told a heated gathering of 150 fishermen and supporters that the Government had “no desire to collaborate and work together in the interest of mutual benefit — it is their agenda and their way only”.

“The answer is no — that is false,” Mr Roban told The Royal Gazette.

He rejected the allegation that the Government’s memorandum of understanding, signed with the Waitt Institute and Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, represented a deal in secret with outside interests.

“The MOU was signed in a press conference at the Cabinet Office. There is nothing secret about it. It is publicly available and it has never been a private document. We had nothing to hide.”

Mr Roban said the association, which has threatened to bring a judicial review against the BOPP, was free to exercise its right to seek legal support.

He added: “But the reality is that the Government has to govern. We are under an obligation of external requirements which the Government has to follow.”

Mr Roban pointed out that Britain had committed to protecting 30 per cent of its marine area and required all Overseas Territories to impose similar protections on their waters.

“Under that international obligation, 30 per cent was considered minimum. But we have managed to do 20 per cent, which is substantially in our outer waters. Only a fraction is close to shore.”

Although fishermen stated at the meeting that the island’s fish stocks were thriving, both Mr Roban and Drew Pettit, director of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, said the healthy showing of species such as the red hind was proof that existing protections were working.

Mr Pettit pointed to the island’s threatened seagrass habitats and the “struggling” populations of the spiny lobster, adding: “On one hand, you have protected areas showing the benefit to species like the red hind — and on the other, you have a species that is not doing well.”

Both said the BOPP remained a work in progress and subject to changes as feedback continued.

Mr Drew said the programme committee would meet in December with specialised fishermen such as bait fishermen, lobster fishermen and those who fish for inshore pelagic species.

He added: “We will ask them what this plan does for them, and what it does not.

“The association has said the Government has to sit and discuss with them, but yet they have told their membership not to participate.”

Asked what would happen if fishermen as a group refused to accept the proposal, Mr Roban said: “That presumes we are not moving from our position and they are not from theirs.

“But this plan is a draft. It is designed to incorporate their thoughts and expertise. There is no presumption they will not be on board.”

Mr Roban said some of the fishing community had provided input and that fishermen’s role in coming up with a final version of the proposal was “essential”.

“Our plan reflects a strategy to increase and grow our fishery. By rejecting this plan, they would be rejecting all these efforts, and I do not believe that is what they want.”

Mr Pettit insisted the Waitt Institute was not driving the plan, but was “here to help facilitate the conversation and provide administrative support — that’s it”.

Asked if the unpopular Blue Halo proposal, launched in 2014 and ultimately dropped, might have fuelled some of the mistrust over BOPP, Mr Pettit responded: “Yes. Which is why this MOU was written the way it was.

“Blue Halo did not have the Government involved in it. This is a government-led and locally led plan. This could not be more different from Blue Halo.”

Consultation over the BOPP proposal remains open until the end of this year.

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Published November 26, 2022 at 8:09 am (Updated November 27, 2022 at 1:15 pm)

No secret deal behind marine conservation plans, says Roban

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