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There are better ways to sustainably manage fisheries

An aerial photo of Bermuda

Dear Sir,

For policy to work, it needs to be targeted, appropriate and effective. Just because birds and airplanes both fly, it doesn’t mean you have a common management strategy for them. The Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme’s current MSP oversimplifies things by lumping fishermen in with things like toxic waste disposal, shoreline development and utility infrastructure work.

Then it overcomplicates things by trying to merge maps together that fit all those purposes. It might look good in a layered graphic presentation, but it’s ineffective in reality. Geographical protection can work for things like static development and dumping, but neither Bios, the Government or Waitt has shown any evidence why fishing harms particular locations. If there are particular species under pressure, fishermen want to work in the interest of sustainability. It was fishermen who told DENR about the rockfish and hind grounds years ago, who lobbied for their closure.

The BOPP’s own documentation, The State of Bermuda’s Waters, lists dangers to the mangroves as shoreline development and sea levels rise, the threats to seagrass as overgrazing and development of inshore waters. Fishing doesn’t even make the list. When this document talks about overfishing, it’s in a historical context, talking about the positive effect from the ban of fish pots in 1990 … which was an equipment regulation, not a geographical closure. It’s not hard to see why the fishermen are frustrated that they’re being lumped in with the very problems they have been warning about, like waste disposal at the airport dump. There are other, better ways to sustainably manage fisheries!

The BOPP has great intentions, and so do the fishermen. Common goals even. But these geographical closures to fishing are a poison pill in what could be a productive partnership. I give Waitt the benefit of the doubt that their purpose is an ocean conservancy philanthropic effort, but they’re making the classic philanthropy mistake of trying to fit a general, theoretical model into a local situation where it’s inappropriate, ineffective and antagonistic, and counting on their good intentions and formidable PR team to carry them through.

There’s work to be done in fisheries. Fishermen keep getting blamed for not offering solutions, but they have. They want effective enforcement of the current regulations. They want to bring recreational fishers into some sort of regulatory framework, where their catch can be counted and understood. They also want meaningful protection of habitat like mangroves and seagrass. They would support a lot more than 20 per cent being protected if it meant protection against actual causes of harm, like shoreline development and pollution, rather than the bogeymen fishers are made out to be.

Various government representatives keep saying the consultation period is still open and nothing is written in stone. In the very beginning of this process, an MOU was signed committing to 20 per cent MPAs with absolutely no public consultation. At the Steering Committee stage, fishermen were outvoted by mostly government entities that have nothing to do with the marine environment on a day-to-day basis. I attended all three public meetings, which were filled with irate fishermen who were given one to two minutes to ask questions, not give feedback.

The Ocean Village meetings were facilitated by a DENR rep and a Waitt rep who only wanted to talk about moving the maps around, not if the maps were a good fisheries management strategy. When fishermen asked to speak to government officials outside the BOPP process, they were ignored.

You can have your MSP, your MPAs. The minister said there’s lots more to the BOPP than fishing. He’s right! You will get support for it! Just take out this poison pill. Take fishing off the list of prohibited activities. Regain the fishing community’s trust by extending the olive branch.


St George's

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Published December 08, 2022 at 7:51 am (Updated December 08, 2022 at 7:51 am)

There are better ways to sustainably manage fisheries

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