Government meets fishermen – 24 hours after in-person talks ruled out
David Burt, the Premier, and Walter Roban, the home affairs minister, held talks yesterday with fishermen staunchly opposed to the Government’s controversial marine conservation plans – less than 24 hours after face-to-face meetings were ruled out.
Further talks are in the pipeline to “craft a way forward with trust and understanding in mind”.
Yesterday Mr Roban, whose remit covers much of Bermuda’s sea resources, turned down having direct talks with the Fishermen’s Association of Bermuda, which has refused to take part in the plans.
But the Premier and Mr Roban headed into the Cabinet office with junior home affairs minister Lindsay Simmons and government MP Christopher Famous for a meeting after more than 100 fishermen bearing a petition against the Government’s Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme arrived at Cabinet.
They were joined by Allan Bean, president of the FAB, and the association’s executive committee.
Mr Bean told The Royal Gazette he believed the minister had been “ordered” by Mr Burt to meet after turning the idea down.
He added: “I’m optimistic now that the Premier wants to listen and help find a resolution to this impasse.”
The petition was said to contain more than 5,000 signatures against the present BOPP.
Mr Burt said the fishermen had a common goal with the Government, calling it “critical” that the conservation plan was “informed by the experience and expertise of the people who know the sea and the fishing industry”.
He said it was “unfortunate that communication has broken down and led to this happening”.
“What is most critical is we agree to share and exchange views in support of what I believe is a common goal.”
Mr Burt added that he had spoken with Mr Bean for more than an hour on the controversy earlier in the week.
Before heading in to talk, the demonstrators held a minute’s silence for fishermen who had died – including Danny Farias, once president of the fishermen's division of the Bermuda Industrial Union, who Mr Bean said had passed away on Thursday.
The gathering came after fishermen voiced anger for months over BOPP, a marine conservation plan that they insist is flawed, skewed in favour of foreign interests, and has shut them out of consultation.
Ahead of the gathering yesterday, Mr Roban issued a statement saying he would now come to the table to meet with the FAB executive.
He said it was in response to a December 20 letter from FAB calling for the BOPP, which calls for a 20 per cent protection of the island’s exclusive economic zone extending offshore, to be put on hold for a rethink.
Mr Roban’s statement added that “many opportunities” had been given for fishermen to have their say on the proposal.
“This process has and will continue to give fishermen a major voice in developing the final plan.”
He emphasised that the marine plan remained a draft.
“Now is the time to have meaningful dialogue with the BOPP to shape the future plan.
“The opportunity for continued, in-depth consultation with all stakeholders is also being built into the next phase of the marine spatial plan process.”
The FAB has declined to take part in talks over the plan, but he said he hoped the association would “encourage its members to participate”.
Mr Roban said work on marine protected areas continued, in tandem with other aspects from legislation and the “blue economy” to enforcement.
Fishermen have insisted that pollution, road runoff, and development are harming Bermuda’s waters – not overfishing.
But Mr Roban said the plan included “eco-based marine management and the requirements for environmental impact assessments” that would help address their concerns.
The fishing group has also called for enforcement of existing regulations, which Mr Roban said was in train with work on the Blue Shield programme and the US Coast Guard for better maritime surveillance.
He added that the ministry “looks forward” to FAB’s input.
Mr Roban confirmed last night that the meeting had been “facilitated” by the Premier.
He said: “The conversation was very respectful and informative on both sides, and there is a mutual understanding that Bermuda’s ocean future is a priority for all of us.
“After extensive discussions on various topics, I expressed my willingness to continue to meet with the FAB to get further details and craft a way forward with trust and understanding in mind.”
Mr Bean said that the association was grateful for the public’s support, adding: “The FAB agreed that, upon seeking feedback from their general membership, we would chart a way forward for them to eventually resume participation in the process of crafting a Blue Prosperity Plan.
“We agreed to work together to ensure the sustainability of the livelihood of Bermuda’s fishermen.”