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Time to start preparing for new season

Yeah, in case you just noticed, it is March and it sort of looks as if it is coming in a bit like a lion; maybe not exactly roaring but certainly growling a little.

Growling enough to keep the recreational fleet on their moorings. While there may be no fishing, this is certainly the time to be getting ready for a season that may burst onto the scene a lot sooner than we think. Now is an ideal time to do the routine boat maintenance and to start checking on fishing gear. This is when new line, etc. should be put on reels and drags checked, not the day before the opening tournament.

There are some fish to be had offshore but things are a bit slow and it really takes something to get most locals out at this time of the year. The commercial fleet is undergoing its refurbishment and so there aren't a whole lot of reports to go on.

Having said that, it is unlikely that the yellowfin tuna will have shifted too far and there are always a few wahoo around. If conditions allow, chumming over the deeper reefs should get some yellowtails up along with some of the amberjack family obliging although getting a bait down to them usually gets quicker results.

Sending a live robin down can result in just about anything and is a good way of finding out if there is anything decent in the area. Remember to give it a while because the ocean world is indeed fluid and things are ever-changing whether you can see it or not.

All the Budget political rhetoric about developing an offshore fishery and the nausea that it is causing certain parties really is in need of some clarification. Talk about trying to re-invent the wheel!

Certainly the provision of some sort of shore side facility is to be welcomed even though the financial ramifications are probably more complex than might be thought. A previous effort effectively ended in bankruptcy due to the high costs of doing business in Bermuda and the lack of scale. Maybe another try will do better.

The other aspect of promoting the use of the Bermuda fishing zone as a source of revenue is an entirely different matter.

The licensing of foreign fishing vessels has been on the books for decades now and into the 1990's there were fleets that licensed on a regular basis. These were mostly Taiwanese longliners based in the Caribbean with the albacore their target species.

Albacore travel a pretty wide range and were numerous in local waters during the months of November to March. Although very few albacore are ever caught by Bermuda-based line fishermen, the longliners caught thousands of tons which were frozen and taken to their home base in the Dutch West Indies.

Actually the really ironic situation is that the same albacore caught in local waters was frozen on board the catching ship, taken to the Caribbean then transhipped to Japan for processing, eventually making its way back here in tins to supermarket shelves. Not exactly the sort of fresh fish that we rave about but just about everyone has a tin in their kitchen!

What most people don't realise is that some species like bluefin tuna and swordfish are commercially important on an industrial scale. They are worth millions, as in tens of millions of dollars and more, to fishermen as individuals and to a country's GDP. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation, tuna exports account for 9% of the export value of world trade. That puts it in with the cars, oil and every other commodity that is traded in the world. Big bucks, in a word!

On the scale of things, Bermuda's commercial fishery is pretty paltry even though a small number of locals derive a reasonably good livelihood from it.

The commercial value of these fisheries is so high that governments of big countries (the USA, Canada, the European Union, etc.) spend a great deal of money administering their fisheries. They also spend a great deal negotiating their respective shares of the total allowable catches that are established by scientific committees that receive input from each nation.

Bermuda's quotas are indeed small and, in fact, have never been exceeded. Happily, they only apply at the moment for swordfish and bluefin tuna. One day, the yellowfin may come under such controls but at least for that species our historical landings will give us a pretty good argument for a reasonable allocation.

When it comes to bluefin and swordfish although some are caught here, the total weight is pretty much insignificant. Back in the day when Bermuda first had a bluefin allocation, it was set at four metric tonnes. That translates into something like a dozen large bluefin in any given year. That simply hasn't happened yet. When you can't catch what you are allowed, it makes it pretty hard to try to get a greater share of the allowable catch.

Now to what is pretty much the crux of many of the arguments put forward by the various parties involved. Under international law, catches are accredited to the countries whose ships/boats catch the fish. So, basically, the flag of the fishing vessel is definitive.

To those who have long memories, the Canadian vessels that spent a winter fishing out of Bermuda under licence were actually fishing against the Canadian quota. That led to all sorts of nausea in the Canadian fishing industry because it meant that the quota was being diminished at a time (winter) when the rest of the Canadian fleet did not even have access to the fish.

This led to the arrest of one of the boats (actually ship, it terms of size) on the high seas (outside of the Bermuda zone) and legal penalties that ran into the millions. Not surprising when you consider that military aircraft and a naval vessel were involved in the pursuit and arrest of the offender which had not broken any Bermuda or international law.

The crime was fishing for controlled species without a licence to do so from the Canadian government. In reality, this was a bit short-sighted because apparently the Canadian government had never thought that a Canadian boat might want to fish outside of Canadian waters.

On a positive note, there are some resources in the Bermuda Exclusive Economic Zone but, also under international law, if you aren't using them yourself you are obliged to make them available to others. Over the years, various groups and individuals have tried to promote the use of these high seas resources but, to be brutally blunt, although it is referred to as a “commercial fishery”, Bermuda remains an artisanal fishery despite its fancy boats and expensive gear. Before waxing eloquent on this entire topic, one would like to think that the powers that be, on all sides, would familiarise themselves with the provisions of the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

Undoubtedly, for lots of reasons, some regulations will come into play; but, hey, so does just about every recreational fishery in the world. We have seat belt laws just like most of the rest of the world, so why not fisheries laws?

Happily for us, it will probably be some time before the local sport fishery is unduly influenced by all of this and in the meantime, we can continue to enjoy the pursuit of Tight lines!!!

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Published March 03, 2012 at 1:00 am (Updated March 03, 2012 at 6:53 am)

Time to start preparing for new season

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