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In whom should we trust?

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The July 2 image of the area where “protected” mangroves were cut down to make way for a boat ramp

Dear Sir,

The following is an open letter to the Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme.

I wanted to share with you something that has occurred in Soldier Bay at Ferry Reach Park, which was a specific area we discussed at the last BOPP Maps focus group meeting.

On July 2, a commercial fisherman reported to the Department of Environment and Natural Resources the attached dated image, showing where someone cut down mangroves to make an access to put a boat overboard. The fisherman suggested to the DENR to reach out to the Department of Parks to have it put up a gate, chain or sign as soon as possible to prevent further degradation. The DENR responded that the terrestrial conservation officer would investigate.

The said boat ramp by mid-August, replete with a gravelled pathway

By mid-August, someone gravelled themselves their own personal boat ramp, see attached picture. When the issue was reported directly to the Department of Parks, it said there had been no contact from the DENR and the report was the first it had heard of it.

It is quite frustrating that this bay in particular is targeted by the BOPP as proposed to be closed to fishing. In a number of the BOPP focus groups, I stated that fishermen wanted to see this bay protected from development and dumping, and DENR staff and others assured me that it is already protected — “it’s parkland, it’s mangroves, don’t worry, nothing can be built there”.

You can see in the photograph that more than 80 years of occasional bait-net fishing by multiple generations of East End fishermen — really, 400 years of fishing — have not harmed the mangroves. However, in a couple of months, development has destroyed the continuity of the bay’s habitat.

This seems to be another incident in a longstanding pattern where commercial fishermen do their part to report problems, but the DENR lacks the resources or standing to address them. I reached out to the DENR again yesterday (August 24) and the rather inadequate response was that the terrestrial conservation officer is still investigating. (Another fisherman reported earlier this year that a stretch of mangroves was destroyed by development in the central parishes. The response was that it was probably invasive species that was taken out, not mangroves. Consider that the only plants that grow with roots in or close to saltwater are mangroves and buttonwood, both restricted from cutting; never mind the idea that a fisherman who has spent decades in and around Bermuda’s natural environment wouldn’t know what a mangrove looks like. Very frustrating.)

Of course, government officials cannot constantly monitor every inch of shoreline for these types of infractions. But fishermen are out in these waters frequently, they see these habitats in all kinds of weather, tides, seasons, moon cycles, and they notice when things go awry or change over time. When they see problems, they want to be part of the solutions. When fishermen’s reports are dismissed and ignored, or the buck gets passed to another department, they lose faith and trust in government institutions that are supposed to protect the natural environment and manage resources for future generations.

Then a proposal such as the BOPP comes along and suggests restricting fishing near mangroves — full protection means protecting against everything, but theoretically mangroves are already protected against development, so effectively the only new protection is against fishing! But no one has taken the time to evaluate the impact of fishing on the mangroves, or even their present health. It would be great to do a study on a few bays, observe the biodiversity on random days, then the day a fisherman visits, then a day, a week, a month after the visit.

Would it not be helpful to have a co-operative relationship with fishermen to facilitate a study such as that? Then, with data from such a study in place, to work with the fishermen to evaluate and mitigate any impact? But co-operation in that form that requires trust, and studies require funding — both of which are in short supply.

The following question was asked in the BOPP focus groups: what’s the cost of geographical fishing restrictions? When restrictions are implemented with no understanding of the present actual impact, no guarantee of any real benefit, no consideration of the context of the existing relationship between fishermen, regulators and the public, the cost is trust. Faith. Co-operation. Partnership.

Those things are never guaranteed, but coming after years of fishermen reporting problems and getting ignored, the existing proposal to close areas to fishing shatters the possibility of them. And, yet, they will be our most valuable resource in times to come.

Please drop the geographic fishing restrictions from the BOPP, and start the conversation over.


St George’s

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Published August 28, 2023 at 7:59 am (Updated August 31, 2023 at 9:51 am)

In whom should we trust?

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