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Fishermen urged to rejoin talks over ocean plan

Fishermen at Flatts inlet cast their lines taking advantage of the extra daylight saving time and the sunset. (Photograph by Tamell Simons/Our Bermuda)

A government official urged fishermen to “come back to the table” after a major representative group snubbed an offer to join conservation talks.

A response to a letter of objection sent out on Thursday by the Fishermen’s Association Bermuda also said the draft Blue Prosperity Plan had been tarred with “misinformation” that had stoked mistrust.

Drew Pettit, the chairman of the Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme steering committee, responded to a letter from the FAB declaring the group would not take part in consultation on the plan — and that its members had been “discouraged” from participation.

The association, which wrote to BOPP organisers, accused officials of attempting to “ignore” fishermen’s views.

Mr Pettit responded in a letter in The Royal Gazette that it had “never been our intention to ‘ignore the stated position of the FAB and its members’ and we will continue to host meetings for all fishermen in the hope of gathering meaningful and constructive input”.

He asked the group to “reconsider its suspension of engagement”.

Fishermen have spoken out publicly against the proposal as sidelining their input — particularly in the mapping out of draft marine protected areas.

Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, has defended the ocean plan as boosting business opportunities for fishing along with other uses of waters within Bermuda’s exclusive economic zone.

Mr Roban, who faced vocal opposition from fishermen at the Government’s public meetings on the plan, has characterised the BOPP as a compromise, with Britain ordering its Overseas Territories to adopt potentially more stringent no-fishing zones.

Britain is imposing protections on 30 per cent of its waters, while Bermuda is proposing 20 per cent.

That threshold would leave the remaining 80 per cent “open to fishing”, Mr Pettit said, while “only about 10.1 per cent of the Bermuda platform is suggested for full protection”.

He said the marine spatial plan “acts as an insurance policy” to preserve fishing into the future.

“Creating areas free from fishing allows fish populations to reproduce and grow, and then spill over into unprotected areas,” Mr Pettit wrote.

He cited reports in October showing a 54 per cent surge in catches of yellowfin tuna close to a fully safeguarded marine protected area.

Mr Pettit added that a global review of marine protection found fish populations are “four to six times higher” in protected areas versus fished areas.

He said the protection was shown to boost coral cover and biodiversity as well as helping to maintain ecosystems that contribute to climate change resilience.

The chairman conceded that “marine protection alone is not a silver bullet for sustainability”.

He said their success depended on “their placement and the implementation of appropriate management, monitoring, enforcement and compliance from ocean users”.

Mr Pettit said fishermen could help to improve the ocean prosperity plan and give extra feedback that would “refine the placement of marine protected areas for minimal conflict”.

Some of the proposed safe zones adjoin Bermuda’s shoreline, which has prompted objections from fishermen at public meetings.

Mr Pettit responded: “Fishing from the rocks will remain open in the majority of Bermuda’s coastline.”

He added: “Also, there is nothing in the plan about selling Bermuda’s waters to foreign investors.”

Suspicions were voiced at town hall meetings over the involvement of the Waitt Foundation, a Washington-based non-profit group which states online that it “supports marine conservation efforts around the globe through funding and grant making”.

Mr Roban has responded to concerns by highlighting that a memorandum of understanding between the Government, Waitt and the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences was signed publicly in 2019.

“There is nothing secret about it,” Mr Roban told The Royal Gazette last month.

“It is publicly available and it has never been a private document. We had nothing to hide.”

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Published December 20, 2022 at 7:37 am (Updated December 20, 2022 at 7:52 am)

Fishermen urged to rejoin talks over ocean plan

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