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Simons defends fishing policies

Minister Cole Simons

Cole Simons has hit back at suggestions that Bermuda has suffered from overfishing due to a lack of “localised and international protection”.

Mr Simons, the environment minister, responded to a feature in The Guardian about underwater research off the island on August 17, which was repeated in The Royal Gazette.

Guardian environment reporter Oliver Milman, who took part in an underwater expedition to investigate the reef and coral off Bermuda’s coast, had stated in the article: “Localised and international protections are also lacking. Bermuda has been largely denuded of marine life due to overfishing.”

Responding in a statement, Mr Simons argued that the island has been a leader in marine conservation.

“I can tell you that Bermuda has created strong policies to curtail overfishing, has developed strong and successful regulations for sustainable fishing and has long shown leadership in conservation of our surrounding ocean and coral reefs,” he said.

“Bermuda is one of only seven locations in the region, including the Caribbean islands, that has healthy reefs in terms of high coral cover and high herbivorous fish populations. Bermuda recognised the problem of overfishing on our coral reefs by the late 1980s and, in 1990, imposed a ban on the “fish pots” that had traditionally been used to catch fish.

“Their overuse in the latter half of the 20th century led to sharp declines in commercially valuable fish and they also caught all types of fish indiscriminately.

“This was followed by the protection of all parrotfish in 1993. These herbivorous fish are critical to the health of coral reefs.

“Other recent scientific publications in 2013 and 2015 by former Bermuda Government Senior Fisheries Officer, Dr Brian Luckhurst, and colleagues further highlighted the recovery of our reef fish populations, especially parrotfish, since 1990.”

Mr Simons also noted the island’s Marine Protection Areas, first created in 1990, which protect habitats, separate fishing and diving activities and reduce fishing pressure. Meanwhile, spawning areas for species such as red hinds have been protected since the 1970s and seasonal protections for black grouper spawning sites were strengthened in 2005.

“Red hinds, black groupers, and other commercially important reef fish are much more common on reefs today,” he said. “Solid management measures, including daily catch limits and minimum size restrictions, allow for sustainable harvests.

“Rather than denuded, I assert that Bermuda’s reef fish populations are in an ongoing period of recovery.”

While the article stated that the government had shelved a plan to create a new ocean reserve “despite overwhelming public support”, Mr Simons said the island remained committed to the sustainable management of its fishery.

“The Bermuda Government has advocated for an economic assessment of a Marine Protected Area in the EEZ before making a commitment to any new reserves,” he said.

“Bermuda is a member of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas and follows the catch quotas allocated for pelagic fish species, such as tuna, and supports the catch-and-release of billfish, such as marlins.

“In addition, Bermuda does not license foreign industrial-scale fishing vessels to fish in her EZZ. In 2010, Bermuda supported the formation of the Sargasso Sea Alliance, and led the formation of the Sargasso Sea Commission in 2014, to advocate for greater international collaboration and co-operation for the protection of international waters and the fish and other migratory species found there.

“Six countries and Overseas Territories have signed the Hamilton Declaration in support of the broad goals of the Commission.”