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Ocean prosperity team alters protected areas after feedback

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Mangroves are among key protected areas for a sweeping marine conservation plan (File photograph)

Significant changes to proposed marine-protected areas under Bermuda’s Blue Prosperity Plan were revealed yesterday.

However, the Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme’s proposal, which creates “a series of smaller protected areas that include fully protected areas”, comes as little comfort to the Fishermen’s Association of Bermuda, as the MPA still covers 20 per cent of the island’s waters.

Protecting waters across 20 per cent of Bermuda’s exclusive economic zone has caused a storm of controversy with commercial fishermen, in particular, who say more data is required before implementation.

The BOPP said it had incorporated feedback into its latest draft plans, emphasising that its priority was “the replenishment of our fisheries, not restricting activity”.

Marine-protected areas have been redrawn in many areas proposed in both the nearshore and offshore.

The BOPP said the new draft maps were presented to “focus group participants”, including commercial fishermen, at a recent meeting.

Changes to proposed marine-protected areas: Hungry Bay in Paget (Image supplied)
Changes to proposed marine-protected areas: Coot Pond in St George’s (Image supplied)

A spokesman added: “Fruitful dialogue and continued engagement from all parties has strengthened the document and allowed BOPP to make meaningful adjustments to the original maps that were released last year.”

Protection designations were changed in key areas to allow for continued shipping activities, as well as necessary maintenance of critical infrastructure such as channel dredging, moorings and docks.

In areas where fully protected MPAs were adjacent to hotel-owned land, adjustments were made allowing for future permitted tourism development.

In the original draft MPA network, the fully protected area seen in dark blue extended to the shoreline in a region that is important to both the Reefs Resort and Club and the Hamilton Princess & Beach Club (Image supplied)
In the revised draft MPA network, a partially protected buffer, seen in pink, is placed between the shoreline and the fully protected area, seen in dark blue. This provides hotel owners with the flexibility to pursue permitted development activities, as well as tourism activities (Image supplied)

The Blue Prosperity Plan includes a Draft Blue Economy Strategy and a Draft Marine Spatial Plan that the BOPP says “work together to create jobs, support local business, improve the economy, and keep our ocean healthy”.

The spokesman added: “These maps are not final versions; however, they do represent months of hard work to incorporate as much feedback as possible from ocean-user groups while still meeting the stakeholder-approved objectives that guide the Marine Spatial Plan. As a result, the newly proposed MPA network does a better job of reducing user conflict and meeting conservation-related objectives.”

Jamie Walsh, the FAB secretary, said in an initial 2019 memorandum of understanding between the Government, the Waitt Foundation and the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, the core pillar of the BOPP was to designate 20 per cent of Bermuda’s waters as fully protected, or “no-take for all fishing”.

Ms Walsh said: “Since that time, FAB has stated over and over that this policy is unnecessary, would be ineffective and is highly antagonistic to the local fishing industry.

“The point of banning an activity, like fishing, is to limit its impact on the environment and natural resources. In order to effectively manage impact, the nature of that impact must be understood.

“If the impact is large, then a reduction of that impact can be meaningful. If the impact is already minimal, then reduction of that impact is meaningless.

“Bermuda enjoys one of the lowest impacts from fishing on this planet. We have no industrial fishing, our fleet consists of small, owner-operated boats serving a local market that is exactly the kind of small-scale, artisanal fishery promoted by the UN’s sustainability goals.”

Ms Walsh said the BOPP and the Department of Environment and Natural Resources have consistently ignored or played down the FAB’s idea that net fishing near mangroves does not harm the habitats, other than harvesting a sustainable amount of targeted baitfish in a manner that mimics natural predation.

Ms Walsh added: “BOPP’s recent revised plan has actually increased the proposed fishing closures around mangroves. They decreased the width of the closure but increased the stretch of shorelines closed.

“Because DENR and BOPP continue to disbelieve fishermen as subject-matter experts on the activity they do on a daily basis, FAB has issued an invitation to the BOPP Science Committee.

“If they do their due diligence and make a genuine effort to understand the actual impact of fishing on the mangroves and then come up with a scientific, not political, reason to close the mangroves to fishing, we would be willing to listen.”

The FAB has suggested that the science committee pick a bay to study and conduct a detailed analysis of the frequency of bait fishing. This would include monitoring the time fishers spend in the water, conducting a biodiversity study, observation of bait-fishing practices and an analysis of the efficacy of closures to net fishing.

It also called for an understanding of how a fishing closure or buffer around mangroves would negatively affect bait fishers’ methodology of mimicking natural predation, which it said results in less ecologically sensitive fishing practices.

Ms Walsh added: “We believe the above is the sort of effort that should have been made in the first place, before management decisions get made. We have high hopes that this sort of study would do much to bring scientists and fishermen closer together, to bring their perspectives more into alignment …

“If you have a moderately well-organised stakeholder group, and you modify your policy based on individual self-interest of just a few members of that group, that is the opposite of building consensus, and it’s a terrible way to make policy.”

The draft Blue Prosperity Plan is now undergoing updates.

After the publication of a final draft, submissions from the public are to be reviewed by an independent committee.

Any recommendations made by that committee, together with the draft plan, will then be submitted to the Cabinet.

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Published November 22, 2023 at 10:03 am (Updated November 22, 2023 at 10:03 am)

Ocean prosperity team alters protected areas after feedback

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