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Walter Roban rejects face-to-face meeting with fishermen

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The Deputy Premier and Minister of Home Affairs, Walter Roban, held a press conference at the Bermuda Aquarium Museum and Zoo on the importance of marine protected areas (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Walter Roban, the Home Affairs Minister, has insisted he is not insulting fishermen by refusing a face-to-face meeting over a controversial government ocean conservation initiative.

Mr Roban, who is also the Deputy Premier, urged the Fishermen’s Association of Bermuda to rejoin a process set up to develop the Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Plan in order to discuss their concerns.

The FAB wrote to the minister on December 22 calling for sit-down talks with him. However, Mr Roban did not respond for 22 days and then declined the request.

The group has criticised the BOPP as a secretive deal with foreign interests that has shut out fishermen’s input.

FAB concerns have centred on the sites of marine protected areas, as well as the involvement of the Waitt Foundation, a United States-based non-profit.

BOPP’s proposal of ten no-fishing zones inside the island’s exclusive economic zone has proved controversial during public consultation over the plan.

Mr Roban told a press conference that he did not believe his stance was an insult to the FAB, adding: “The fishermen have rejected a process. I think that is what we have to remember to start with.

“It started with them saying they did not want to participate, and then after that they said that they wanted to meet with me.

“I have made it very clear, I think it is more important, and more important from their interests, to believe in the process, to engage in the process.

“And, as this process goes along there may be an opportunity to meet, but to first say they reject the process and then say they want to meet with me, I don’t think that’s a good approach.

“I haven’t ignored them, I just don’t agree with their position on aspects of what they say.

“I understand their concerns. I don’t have to necessarily agree with what they are saying.”

On the FAB boycott of the process, the minister said: “I respect their right to choose. At some point there may be an opportunity to have a meeting.

“That could be a meeting with any of the leaders of this process. It might be with myself in the future, but I am guided by the process.

“Having an exclusive meeting with me is not part of the design of the process.”

Asked about an opinion piece in The Royal Gazette by Matthew Jones which stated that under the proposals fellow fishermen would have to choose between “breaking the law or starving”, Mr Roban said: ”I don’t believe that is true, and I would not encourage anyone to break the law because that is not a necessary action to take.“

The minister has defended the proposed 20 per cent protection of Bermuda’s exclusive economic zone — an area stretching 200 miles off the island’s shores — saying Britain had called for its Overseas Territories to adopt 30 per cent conservation.

He insisted that marine populations were recovering from the overfishing seen in the 1970s and 1980s, and that marine protection areas would aid this trend.

Fish catches chart from the Department of Environment and Natural Resources

Fishermen opposing the BOPP are gathering at the Cabinet Office today to deliver a petition to David Burt.

In a letter to the Premier, the FAB said it was ready to rejoin the process, but only with “fair representation”.

The FAB has said fishermen are prepared to accept 20 per cent – but wanted a redrawing of the marine protection areas, particularly protected areas directly off the island’s shore.

Scott Pearman, the One Bermuda Alliance shadow home affairs minister, said the Government needed to listen to the FAB.

He stated: “FAB members have rightly pointed out the Government’s decision to sign a memorandum of understanding with the Waitt Foundation before embarking on public consultation was a serious mistake from the outset.

“Doing so conveyed to other parties that Government had no interest in listening to all viewpoints. David Burt’s government is not known for listening.

“Alternative proposals from FAB and from other Bermudians deserve to be considered further and taken into account.

“All Bermudians – including those who make their livelihood through fishing – have an interest in preserving our marine environment.

“Yet, in tough economic times we must recognise these are Bermudians with not only mouths to feed, but who are literally putting food on Bermudian tables.

“They have every right to be heard.”

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Published January 13, 2023 at 8:06 am (Updated January 13, 2023 at 8:06 am)

Walter Roban rejects face-to-face meeting with fishermen

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