Simons: Illegal fishing ‘minimal’
The probability of foreign ships illegally fishing in local waters is low, Minister of the Environment Cole Simons has told the House of Assembly.
Mr Simons said a final report he received from Catapult Satellite Applications showed that, after monitoring the island's Exclusive Economic Zone, the practice was “minimal”.
However, he said the report did reflect “some heightened fishing activity between November and May.”
“This does not necessarily mean that the activity is illegal but rather that we should be watchful that it is not,” he added. “We should also develop effective measures to enforce the protection of our EEZ should there be an incident of illegal fishing. These measures must be both cost effective and flexible enough to address the need.”
In 1996, an Exclusive Economic Zone of 200 nautical miles of ocean surrounding Bermuda was declared which means the island has rights over all natural resources within that area.
“Our commercial fishermen depend on the fisheries resources found within the EEZ waters for their livelihoods, and critical foreign exchange is brought to Bermuda every year through visiting sports fishing vessels looking for ‘the big one',” said Mr Simons.
“In a world where some 90 per cent of fish stocks are either fully or over exploited, it is our responsibility to manage the resources under our care sustainably and to establish to what extent our resources are under threat from outside fishing fleets. Bermuda has a significant legal deterrent to discourage illicit activity in our waters. If a foreign vessel is convicted of fishing illegally in Bermuda waters anywhere in the EEZ, the Fisheries Act 1972 provides for a fine of up to one million dollars and confiscation of the vessel and the catch. The challenge is and continues to be how to effectively monitor for such activity.
“The technology that has put the oceans of the world under even more pressure can also be used to our advantage. Most large fishing vessels and their support craft have Automatic Identification Systems fitted on their vessels as a safety and tracking tool. This device emits a signal. However, some fishing vessels are known to turn off their AIS tracking systems when close to a country's EEZ, either because they wish not to be interrupted when taking innocent passage through an EEZ, or because they are fishing illegally.”