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Oversight of Bermuda’s waters goes to multi-nation ‘Commission’

Premier Craig Cannonier is to sign over stewardship of Bermuda's 175,000 square miles of ocean waters that make up the island's Economic Exclusion Zone, as well as its territorial waters, to an international commission without the Legislature approving the move, in just one week's time.

The Hamilton Declaration on Collaboration for the Conservation of the Sargasso Sea will be subject to: “ ... an executive action concerning issues beyond Bermuda. The Government may enter into such voluntary arrangements without the need for legislative approval,” stated a Goverment spokesperson.

The Premier, along with the signatories from as many as 10 additional countries, is preparing for the multilateral event which is set for March 11. However, Government will not release that list of signatories until after the Declaration is signed.

The Declaration covers: “the exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and territorial sea around Bermuda, (excluding the shallow water habitats associated with the Bermuda platform at the base of the Bermuda Rise) ...” and agrees to set up The Sargasso Sea Commission which is to “exercise a stewardship role for the Sargasso Sea and keep its health, productivity and resilience under continual review.”

A concerned group called The Exclusive Economic Zone Stakeholder Caucus, who describe themselves as a group of motivated Bermudians and residents, including scientists, commercial and recreational fishermen, trans-ocean cable operators, mineral prospectors and conservationists, are objecting to the multinational agreement.

Caucus member Michael Batista, who is vice president of the Bermuda Anglers Club, said: “We are considering the inclusion of our entire EEZ in what effectively amounts to an international memorandum of understanding on marine stewardship, without having defined our own EEZ management and conservation plan first.”

He is also worried that: “The influence of the Commission's ‘persons of international repute' could potentially affect access to and national benefit from our sovereign maritime territory and resources.”

A Government spokesman pointed to the Sargasso Sea Alliance (SSA)-Government website that states that the Sargasso Sea Commission has no management authority. “ ... management authority over the EEZ around Bermuda remains exclusively under the control of Bermuda, while management of activities in areas beyond national jurisdiction remains with the existing international and regional sectoral organisations such as the International Maritime Organisation (IMO) for shipping activities, and the International Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) and the Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO) for fishing activities.”

The Declaration states there will be a legislative framework to establish the Commission. The Government description of the process is that the Commission will be established as a private legal entity under Bermudian law. “There is no legislative framework — no legislation is required in Bermuda. It has no legal effect in Bermuda.

“This is an international non-binding instrument under which foreign governments voluntarily agree to consult with each other on ways that they could support action to develop protection measures for the high seas through existing international organisations.”

Responding to questions about the Commission's authority to manage the Sargasso Sea, and the process by which their recommendations are moved forward, the Government spokesperson responded: “This is a novel/voluntary approach to try to develop protection measures for areas beyond national jurisdiction. The Commission researches and develops proposals which are discussed by the Meeting of the Signatory governments for presentation to international organisations like IMO, ICCAT, NAFO and others — for measures in areas beyond nation jurisdiction (i.e., outside EEZs).”

Answering questions about the development of the Declaration document, the spokesperson explained it was drafted by representatives of some 10 governments at a series of meetings over the last two years. “The Governments who helped draft it are expected to attend and sign it together with a number of other interested governments.

“The list will be released at the meeting on the 11th.

“The process was reported to and discussed by Cabinet over the last two years, under the previous as well as the current administration.”

The Government spokesperson also said: “The UK has taken the view that this is within the terms of the Entrustment Agreement with the UK.

“Given that the UK is satisfied that this work is within the terms of the Entrustment Agreement between Bermuda and the UK, the Premier will sign on behalf of Bermuda.”

The text and data in the Declaration were also negotiated and agreed by some 10 government representatives as well as representatives from some six specialised international expert organisations. “It refers to the SSA Science Report that was produced by a large number of authors from some of the leading marine research organisations in the world. Before it was published, it was reviewed by the Bermuda Cabinet and by the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and relevant Ministries.

The Government spokesman also explained: “Regional and international organisations with relevant competences” is the legal phrase to cover those organisations with authority over areas beyond national jurisdiction. They are set out in paragraph eight (of the) International Maritime Organisation for shipping issues; the Regional Fisheries Management Bodies like ICCAT and NAFO, the Convention on Migratory Species. None of these bodies have power to impose measures on countries or their territories without their consent.”

The geographical area of the Sargasso Sea was determined by an “ecosystem definition” proposed by the Government of Bermuda to a meeting of scientific experts convened by the Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) in Recife, Brazil in March 2012, the spokesperson explained. “After careful consideration by the experts it was agreed that the Sargasso Sea as so defined could be described as an Ecologically or Biologically Significant Area (EBSA). It was subsequently added to the repository of such areas held by the CBD Secretariat after consideration by all the CBD Parties at the Conference of the Parties (COP) in Hyderabad in autumn 2012.”

“The Declaration will be signed by the Premier.

“Government has asked the Ministry for Environment and Health to be the Bermudian representative going forward and it will be the focal point for Bermuda. The meeting will be chaired by the Minister of Health and Environment.” The spokesperson also explained: “The focal point in each country provides a single point of contact on this issue in each Signatory. It can be an office or a person.”

The Commission has the power to research and develop proposals in relation to activities such as shipping and fishing. “These would ONLY relate to areas beyond the EEZs of Signatory countries including beyond Bermuda's EEZ unless those countries specifically agreed otherwise,” the spokesperson explained.

“Then those proposals would be discussed by the signatories and they would decide individually whether they could propose or support them before the relevant regional or international bodies. If they agreed, they would speak in support of such proposals before the IMO or ICCAT, et cetera.

“No proposal before such a body can have legal effect in any national waters (EEZ or territorial sea) without the express consent of that country.”

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Published March 04, 2014 at 8:27 am (Updated March 04, 2014 at 8:27 am)

Oversight of Bermuda’s waters goes to multi-nation ‘Commission’

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