Charity offers to help stop illegal fishing
A British marine conservation charity could help the island close the net on illegal fishing in Bermuda waters.
Executive chairman for the Blue Marine Foundation [Blue] Charles Clover — The Sunday Times investigative journalist who reported in award-winning documentary The End of the Line — visited the island on his own dollar this month and met with government representatives about a possible partnership.
The main focus was helping to improve the island's currently limited monitoring and enforcement capabilities.
Mr Clover told The Royal Gazette that he wanted to make clear that, unlike the Pew Foundation which attempted to introduce its Blue Halo marine reserve to the island in 2013, his not-for-profit organisation was only interested in helping Bermuda to find its own solutions, sharing expertise and sourcing funding from international bodies, individuals and organisations within Blue's extensive pool of contacts.
He said: “I am not going to do anything unless Bermuda wants it — that is where people went wrong before. But if you have a shopping list, I can take it around the world and buy it for you. That is what Blue does.” His offer coincides with Britain's Blue Belt initiative — a momentous conservation commitment to assist overseas territories in protecting their waters.
Bermuda already has harsh fines in place for illegal fishing but there are inadequate monitoring and enforcement resources, especially for offshore grounds.
If a long-line vessel was caught fishing illegally in Bermuda's offshore Exclusive Economic Zone, the Government could find itself hit with a $1 million fine.
Meeting with Jeanne Atherden, in her former capacity as environment minister, and chairwoman of the Marine Resources Board Susan Wilson, Mr Clover highlighted satellite technology that is being used on Pitcairn Island with some success, as well as the use of Royal Air Force drones to monitor illegal inshore recreational and commercial fishing in the Ascension Island.
“Both Susan and Jeanne seemed very interested in what is going on with these leading-edge enforcement tools around the world,” he said.
“One of the things I will look at is whether we can help Bermuda in any way to deliver better enforcement of its EEZ. Lack of monitoring and enforcement in Bermuda is well understood and we can help in providing expertise and funding for it.
“In the fullness of time Bermuda may want to get a handle on recreational fishing rates — if you are monitoring a reef, drones can be very useful.”
While Mr Clover acknowledged the fine condition of Bermuda's reef systems, going as far as to say the island should host a marine conference to show the world what it has achieved, he says data is essential for proper monitoring and that there is still a very real threat of illegal fishing farther from shore.
“There is a widespread suspicion that tuna fishermen are coming into Bermuda waters and you would need to look out there and see what is going on — Taiwanese long-line fishing gear has been found in Bermuda without any growth on it. Nothing stops changing the potential for illegal, unregulated and unreported [IUU] vessels to sneak into Bermuda's waters and the threat has never been greater — they are faster, they are more effective. Are there people who you could be fining? If you could levy a $1 million fine against one vessel you have suddenly got a budget for quite a lot of things.”
A spokeswoman for the environment ministry said: “During his brief time on the island, Mr Clover met with the minister and the Marine Resources Board as the advisory body to the minister on marine-management matters. As a result of these and subsequent discussions, the government looks forward to exploring the potential for assistance in better understanding Bermuda's deepwater marine environment and exploring better enforcement measures for the 200 miles of our offshore Exclusive Economic Zone.”
During his visit to Bermuda, Mr Clover screened The End of the Line in a number of schools. The documentary explores how overfishing is “changing the world and what we eat”, predicting there will be no fish for humans to eat by 2048.
•Cole Simons has taken over the environment portfolio from Jeanne Atherden after a Cabinet reshuffle on Friday afternoon