Fishermen insist protected-area management strategy is flawed
Data before decisions, adaptive fisheries management and mandatory recreational fishing licences are on the list of proposals being drawn up by the Fishermen’s Association of Bermuda.
The organisation has been holding meetings among its members to try to formulate a plan ahead of the implementation of regulations under the Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme, which proposes a 20 per cent no-take zone, which is opposed by the association.
The Government has said that it would “proceed with the BOPP process” but that members of the fishing community were welcome to participate.
Jamie Walsh, secretary for the FAB, said: “The problem is, it is the wrong management strategy. There’s a 20 per cent no-take protected area, which makes a blanket decision on what should be targeted management. When you take away a big chunk like this, a very tenuous economic model tips over and becomes non-viable.
“We are very lucky, we don’t have large scale, industrial fishing in Bermuda — it doesn’t exist. The few species that are commercially fished can be managed on a species-by-species basis.
“We are not against protected areas, but it needs to be targeted to specific species or a specific habitats, and be based on data — data we don’t have.
“We need data first and decisions later with fishermen and government, and entities like the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, working together.”
Ms Walsh said that adequate enforcement of existing regulations was also key, while fish exports were a non-starter.
Last year, the association rejected a marine conservation and management plan that looked to protect 20 per cent of Bermuda’s waters from fishing.
Fishermen left the table last November and considered taking legal action against BOPP. They accused the Government of ignoring their input.
Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, initially ruled out direct talks with FAB after the group spurned further feedback meetings on the draft proposal.
Fishermen presented a petition with about 5,000 signatures against the BOPP proposals to David Burt and Cabinet in January. The Premier and other officials offered to meet directly.
The association presented a draft memorandum of understanding to the Government for “re-establishing trust between the parties involved”.
In a June statement, fishermen said the Department of Environment and Natural Resources had failed to heed alternative proposals.
Ms Walsh said that fishermen were on the water and had the first-hand knowledge and ability to help gather data. She said that the only data on fish status was submitted by commercial fishermen on a self-reporting basis, which was not adequate.
She added: “There needs to be licensing and reporting from recreational fishermen and there needs to be detailed stock analysis conducted by the Government.
“These are proposed in BOPP but have been proposed and agreed upon for 30 years without being enacted. BOPP is making promises, telling fishermen they have to give up 20 per cent in exchange for promises that have not been kept for 30 years.
“Those things need to come first so the horse is followed by cart. The measures need to be in place first before any geographic closures can happen.”
Ms Walsh said that the association was working with stakeholders, including environmental groups the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce and Turtle Conservation Project, in exploring a sustainable way forward. She said it needed to be a collaborative effort but driven by the Government.
“We want to be treated like partners but BOPP threatens to criminalise legitimate activity versus treating them like partners,” she said.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources told The Royal Gazette said: “There is no update following the withdrawal of the association from the process.
“The Government remains committed to an integrated strategy to enhance the management of the island’s entire Exclusive Economic Zone through improved management, enforcement and legislation, and the process will continue.
“Members of the fishing community remain welcome to participate as we proceed with the BOPP process and come to a fair solution that will benefit the fishermen, other key stakeholders and the people of Bermuda.”
The BOPP was originally approved in 2019 in a tripartite agreement between the Government, the BIOS and the Waitt Institute, a US environmental group committed to ocean conservation.
Aside from FAB’s own meetings, Allen Bean, its president, has been having discussions with Mr Roban, but there is presently no meeting planned to re-engage with BOPP.
Ms Walsh added: “Until the structural issue of BOPP’s commitment to the 20 per cent no take [is dealt with], FAB wont be able to re-engage.
“We are still in development of our proposals and are holding another meeting this evening. I think you will find when we put forth our proposal it will be evidence based, it will be adaptive management that takes into account the health of the ecosystem and the cultural and economic wellbeing of fishermen, and all of Bermuda.”
She said the association would also like to engage with the public and legislature and hold public meetings to raise awareness of its concerns and proposals.