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Further consultation coming for ocean-management plan

Fishermen opposing the BOPP gathered at the Cabinet Office (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

A draft of the Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme will be put out for public consultation soon, the Government announced.

It added that a panel will be formed to review and consider responses, including a proposal recently put forward by the Fisherman’s Association of Bermuda.

Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, told the House of Assembly: “The Government acknowledges the work by the FAB in creating their draft, as well as their willingness to share the document for review and we will consider how it can contribute to the common goals of managing Bermuda’s waters.

“I will note that the consultation process continues and the public and stakeholders will be invited in due course to provide feedback to the BOPP draft plan.

“In order to ensure that all comments are carefully considered, I will be inviting a panel of advisers to review all of the comments received. This panel will include persons with expertise in marine-related areas who have been independent of the marine spatial plan drafting process.

“The panel will then provide to me recommendations on how to address any issues that have been raised. The submission of the FAB will be reviewed by the panel for consideration.”

Mr Roban later told The Royal Gazette that the members of the panel would be announced publicly.

“These experts will have a variety of expertise, and they will consider the plan, they will manage public feedback on the plan and consider and incorporate any considerations that might be helpful to further enhancement, including from the FAB or others,” he said.

“This has been a plan in evolution from the beginning. It does not look like the original proposal that was dropped in late 2022. It has evolved since then.

“The goal is to give the public another opportunity to view this phase of it and comment so it can be shaped before it is considered by the Government.”

He said the plan that emerges out of the panel review process would be the one brought before Cabinet for consideration.

“The consultation we believe will be efficient, but it is my hope to get this whole package to the legislature prior to us rising in July. That is my plan,” Mr Roban said.

“I would like to do that, at least from a legislative standpoint, so the Marine Development Act, which is a part of this, is in place even as we continue to shape other pieces.”

Mr Roban said that hundreds of people have already taken part in the consultative process since 2019 and he was confident they will feel their voices have been heard and see their feedback in the final plan.

“Every stakeholder group has had an opportunity to be involved,” he said. “It is unfortunate that the FAB made a conscious, public decision to withdraw, but we have spoken to fishers. Fishers have been involved in this process.

“The plan represents a wide variety of consultation of a variety of ocean interests and users. People who dive, people who do water sports, people who are interested in new technology like aquaculture, people involved in renewable energy, people involved with developing other opportunities that are ocean-based have all been involved.”

He added that most of the protections will be in place where no fishing activity takes place, such as nearby seamounts, which he said were rich with biodiversity that needed protection.

“That biodiversity feeds into the rest of our ocean, and some areas we want to protect because we know that they are nurseries for different species, we know that they play a significant role in ocean health, and we want to ensure that those are protection,” he said.

“This is about replenishment, not restriction.”

Drafts for the plan, along with background documents and reports, can be found online at www.bermudaoceanprosperity.org.

The comments came after the FAB released a plan that focused on the co-operative management of fisheries as an alternative to the programme presented by the Government.

The 12-page plan insists that fishers be able to participate in all levels of decision-making and that scientific data must support any decisions, including closing off areas of Bermuda’s waters to fishing.

The BOPP was originally approved in 2019 in a tripartite agreement between the Government, the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences and the Waitt Institute, a US environmental group committed to ocean conservation.

The FAB rejected the plan arguing that fishermen were not properly consulted and that more data were needed before decisions were made.

The plan put forward by the FAB sets out eight goals, beginning with the provision of “access to marine resources for present and future generations”.

“Co-operative management of our fisheries resource is an approach based on shared responsibility and decision-making between resource users and the Bermuda Government, acting as a regulatory body,” the plan stated.

“Management decisions should be based on locally produced data in the context of sustainable fisheries management science. All methods of data collection require and benefit from a co-operative relationship between fishers and regulators/scientists.

“This is imperative, as fishers’ deep and broad knowledge of target species and the marine environment provides context to a variety of factors that can affect fish movements and catch rates.”

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Published February 24, 2024 at 7:55 am (Updated February 24, 2024 at 7:55 am)

Further consultation coming for ocean-management plan

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