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Government: fishermen's input integral to marine plan

Mangroves are among the marine habitats to get enhanced protection under the Blue Prosperity Plan (File photograph)

A rift between fishermen and environment officials over a draft plan for regulating the use of the island’s waters shows no sign of healing despite further consultation.

The draft Blue Prosperity Plan, under the Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme, was rolled out in August 2022.

However, the Fishermen’s Association of Bermuda has rejected the proposal, particularly for its introduction of no-fishing areas covering 20 per cent of the island’s exclusive economic zone.

BOPP officials announced last week that they had undertaken 107 days of public consultation to get feedback, including from fishermen, for a “holistic” plan that would reduce conflict between user groups.

The FAB responded on Friday with a statement criticising BOPP’s “lack of fundamental understanding of sustainable fisheries management”.

It said: “It’s true there were representatives from the Commercial Fisheries Council on the BOPP steering committee.

“What BOPP doesn’t tell you is that they were constantly frustrated that they were ignored and outvoted, their expertise and experience minimised.”

The Department of Environment and Natural Resources said the marine spatial plan, which would regulate the use of the island’s waters, had used feedback to draw up its main principles in the spring of 2021.

“The final document was approved by BOPP’s steering committee, which included representatives from the commercial fishing industry.

“The door remains open for their continued involvement in the BOPP process.”

The DENR acknowledged that a “major concern” raised by commercial fishermen highlighted that industry complexities had not informed the layout of the plan’s marine protected area.

Factors include “the various gear types used, the species of fish targeted and the different areas fished on the reef platform throughout the year”.

The department insisted that feedback from fishermen and others had been incorporated into the marine plan.

“As adjustments are made to the locations of protected areas, individual consultations with fishermen are ongoing, as they are with other ocean user stakeholder groups.”

An ocean-use survey collected 1,400 responses on how residents perceive the island’s waters, with the most valued areas mapped.

The survey was reopened for input from the commercial fishing sector, and a DENR official interviewed fishermen, gathering data on where the most important fishing areas are for key species at various times of year, along with “where different gear types are used”.

Information, including proposals for new fisheries regulations, was gathered through meetings with 75 commercial fishermen, representing 38 per cent of commercial vessel owners.

The DENR said it planned to “close the gap” in licensing by requiring licences and bag limits for recreational fishermen.

Proposals also call for recreational fishermen to report catch figures, similar to commercial fishermen.

The DENR collects data on key species such as lobster and red hind to study the dynamics of fisheries, allowing for “adaptive fisheries management”.

However, the FAB statement said fishermen would “believe it when we see it” when it came to recreational fishing licences and better enforcement.

The group said both had been promised to the commercial fishing industry for “upwards of 30 years”.

The association branded the 20 per cent no-catch zones “lazy management”.

“Rather than investigate the root causes of marine environmental and resource degradation, it slaps a label of ‘protected’ on an area and calls it a day.

“Instead of relying on much needed fish stock analysis and cultivating a co-operative relationship with fishers (commercial and recreational) to obtain better statistics to make informed fisheries management decisions, it is content to alienate them and proceed with zero buy-in.”

FAB said it appeared the no-fishing zones had been “set in stone from the beginning”.

“There is no trust that areas would not be expanded, or that we would not lose more areas to marine energy projects.

“There is no trust that further political, non-scientific management decisions would not be made.”

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Published October 01, 2023 at 12:44 pm (Updated October 01, 2023 at 4:30 pm)

Government: fishermen's input integral to marine plan

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