Environmental questions that must be answered
After the joint public announcement on September 30, 2020 by the Government and the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation about the launch of the Bermuda Triangle Fishing Co-operative, and the stated intent to “significantly increase Bermuda’s annual local catch”, the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce reached out for further details on the initiative.
On October, BEST submitted a letter of inquiry to the Premier, the Minister of Home Affairs and BEDC chairman Jamahl Simmons.
Bermuda’s fish stock has been in decline for more than 50 years. An announcement by the Government indicating a plan that might accelerate this process raises serious questions. Undertaking a project such as this is an issue of national interest and requires an awareness of the relationship between sustainable fishing and the future impact of the climate crisis on our marine environment.
This past year was and continues to be challenging for all of us. We understand the motivation to restart the economy; however, that must not come at the expense of our natural environment. The sustainability of our island’s resources is in the long-term interest of all people in the country. The people of Bermuda have the right to hear the details concerning any significant changes to how we make use of a critical resource such as our fisheries.
After our original letter, we were directed by the minister to Mr Simmons, and subsequently to Corey Butterfield, who we were told is spearheading the BTFC on behalf of the Government. To date we have not received a full response to our questions. It has been more than three months since those questions were originally submitted. In the spirit of transparency, we have included the questions below and we respectfully request these questions are addressed by the appropriate persons as soon as possible.
1, Can BEDC and Move Bermuda provide data or research reports based on the Bermuda fishery stocks, which show that Bermuda’s fishery can support the proposed “significant increase” in local catch?
2, Is the objective to fully satisfy local demand for fish with local catch? (This would indicate a goal to increase local catch by 250 per cent based on 2018 figures.) Virtually no other consumer product is produced wholly, or even substantially, here in Bermuda for our residents
3, Given the critical implications of more intensive local fishing, have either the Government’s environmental body — the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources — the Fisheries Council or the Marine Resources Board been consulted at any time, as part of the due diligence carried out by the BEDC and Move Bermuda over the past couple of years? If so, were all organisations confident that increasing local catch would not threaten the condition long-term sustainability of our fishery?
4, How does this align with Bermuda’s committed goals under the Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Project? Have the BOPP committee members been consulted about this initiative?
5, Was there research into why commercial fishermen cannot satisfy local demand and, if so, what were the findings?
6,Did all licensed commercial fishermen complete the Move Bermuda survey? If so, what percentage were in favour of the goal to increase significantly the local catch?
7, Will there be an updated fish-stock assessment undertaken, and will results be reviewed before any actions taken to increase local catch? And if the project is undertaken, are funds set aside to study the continuing impact it has on Bermuda’s fishery?
8, If the programme proceeds, will the continuous monitoring of fish stocks take place, both of live fish in the water as well as catch statistics? Will fisheries effort be adjusted based on the annual assessments?
9, Please provide details on the Pilot programme — what assumptions are being tested? If this is an exercise in maximising catch, will there be any non-traditional fishing methods used that have been restricted in the past, eg, fish pots, longline fishing, net trawling, etc?
10, Will changes to key fishing regulations be required to achieve the increased catch, eg, increased bag limits; fishing permitted in spawning grounds all year round or in other previously restricted areas; removing protection status from parrotfish or other currently protected species?
• Kim J. Smith is the executive director of the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce and is writing on behalf of its marine conservation team