The imminent demise of the fishing industry
In 2019, I wrote an article in RG magazine outlining how the the dramatic rise in the human population was putting severe strain on the global pelagic fishery.
Five years later, when you couple this with a local government that has mismanaged our fishery for well over 30 years, we are now looking at the end of the commercial fishing industry in Bermuda.
If the current BOPP regulations are put in place, say goodbye to being able to buy fresh local fish here in Bermuda. Say goodbye to being able to fish off the rocks in many bays all around Bermuda.
Since the ban of fish pots, which was a necessary step in saving the demersal species of our reef, all the fisheries department has done is ban, close and restrict fishing without doing any kind of real enforcement or data collection. These days it is more cost-effective and easier to fish outside the limits of the law.
I returned to the island and started fishing full time in 2014 and gave up in 2021. In that timespan, I saw fisheries out patrolling once. In fact, the only time I was sure all the boats out fishing were actually licensed commercial fishermen was during the lockdown when the coastguard was checking every boat on the water.
A few years back we had a good red hind season. The response from the Government was to shut down the hind grounds early, essentially making it pointless to fish for hinds any more. We have one good red hind season and the response from the Department of Fisheries is to close the hind grounds instead of doing the necessary science to come up with a quota, ie, find out how many fish we can sustainably harvest and then enforce the quota by putting cameras on the fishing boats or fisheries officers on fishing boats to get an accurate count and closing the season once the quota is met. Instead the department decided to close the hind grounds early, essentially putting an end to the red hind fishery for good.
Now let's contrast this with how fisheries management is supposed to work.
Fisheries management should be a graceful dance between two co-operating partners, the Government and the commercial fishing industry. For fisheries management to work, it needs to be recognised that you cannot have fisheries management and protection without a commercial fishing industry and you cannot have a commercial fishing industry without proper fisheries management.
The role of fisheries management is to conduct unbiased science to determine the health of the respective fisheries and marine environment in general. To come up with quotas, to find out how many fish we can sustainably take from the ocean and then enforce theses quotas. Once these quotas has been given a dollar value, that is the value of the industry. The money then earned by commercial fishermen, restaurants, etc filters into the economy and is taxed, providing the funding for the science necessary to regulate the industry in the first place.
Here in Bermuda, because the regulatory authority has completely and totally failed to understand what its purpose is, ie, to do the necessary science and enforcement to create a proper industry, the fisherman have lost all trust that the Government cares about them or the industry.
Right now the regulatory authority’s sole focus is conservation. But conservation is not an end in itself. It is a means of ensuring a species is still around for our children and their children’s children to be able to eat and enjoy, not so that our great-grandchildren can see them in an aquarium.
Conservation is only possible through proper fisheries management. Simply banning everything, closing every single spawning site saves fish here by killing fish elsewhere. If there is no more local commercial fishery, all that will happen is that we will import more fish. Importing fish is not the ecologically friendly option. Think about it — importing fish creates far more pollution. Think about all the plastic packaging, the fuel burnt to bring the fish thousands of miles to Bermuda, etc. By importing fish, we are stripping the reefs in the Bahamas to save ours. The worst thing we could do for the planet is turn Bermuda into a massive marine reserve and import fish.
We have to remember we are a part of Nature. Our economy is not separate from ecology. The idea of “nature preserves” continues to perpetuate the way of seeing the world that got us into the situation in which we find ourselves. It creates a divide between us and Nature. It perpetuates the idea that Nature can only be pure without people. We must change this attitude; we are as natural as any other living thing. We are part of Nature and we must start acting as stewards. We must learn to blend our economic system seamlessly with the ecological system. Ecology functions by having no waste products. Everything is useful, every process inextricably linked with and part of other bigger processes in a closed system with no waste. The closer we can get our economy to match ecology the better a chance we have at hanging around for another 300,000 years.
To do this we must learn from history. When the United States created their “National Parks”, Native Americans were removed from their lands to do so, as if it wasn’t their land they had lived on for thousands of years without destroying it. We are just as “natural” as any other living being. Yet we are the only ones who create “nature preserves”.
To conserve the planet we must remember we are a part of it. We must remember how to live with Nature without disturbing it. This is why we need fishing. It is our birthright to be able to go catch, cook and eat.
As a common good, it is in all of our best interests to take from the ocean what she can actually offer. To know what the ocean can actually sustainably offer, we need valid scientific surveys. To get valid scientific surveys we need a commercial fishery for two reasons: first to provide the data without which we don’t know what is out there, secondly the money to pay for the scientists.
A regulatory authority cannot exist without a commercial fishing industry and a commercial fishing industry cannot exist without a properly functioning regulatory authority. The fishermen need the scientists and the scientists need the fishermen. Without the fishermen the scientists have no data, without the data we cannot have a sustainable fishery.
Until this is resolved, until the regulatory authority realises it needs the fishermen and the fishermen realise we need the regulatory authority, properly conserving our marine environment will be impossible.
• Matthew Jones is a fishermanand charter boat captain