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A pilot fishing co-operative was launched yesterday.

David Burt, the Premier, said the Bermuda Triangle Fishing Co-operative would increase fishermen's incomes and boost the market for island-caught fish.

He added that fish was a Bermudian staple, but island fisherman were unable to keep up with demand.

Mr Burt said: “Although we live on an island and are surrounded by healthy, crystal-clear waters, it is not always easy to purchase local fish, creating an odd circumstance where fishermen sell out of their product and cannot satisfy demand.

“Most customers rely on a ‘hook-up' to get local fish on any given day.

“At the same time, over 300 families and homes rely on a fisherman's income and, given the uncertainty of weather, gear and fish, if fishermen are not fishing they are not earning.”

He added that a fishing co-operative and shore-side processing centre had been recommended in a White Paper in 2005, but limited resources meant the plans were put on hold.

Mr Burt added: “The plans were suspended until a more suitable time. That more suitable time is now.”

Mr Burt said the 2020-21 Budget included $1.5 million for a fishing co-operative and a processing factory.

He added that collaboration that involved fisherman, the Bermuda Economic Development Corporation and Move Bermuda — a grassroots organisation — had brought the project to reality.

Willie Ferguson, the chairman of Move Bermuda, said the pilot programme would help establish methods that would be adopted by the full co-operative.

He explained that it would help to increase catches and boost the incomes of fishermen.

Mr Ferguson said: “We are excited to be advancing the project and over the next weeks we will be making further announcements and holding a public meeting for persons to learn more about this innovative development for our fishermen.”

Jamahl Simmons, the chairman of the BEDC, said research had shown there was an untapped demand for Bermudian-caught fish.

He highlighted that, even with fish not found in Bermuda waters such as haddock excluded, Bermuda imported more fish than it caught.

He said: “In 2017, with just the species we can catch in Bermuda's waters, local fishermen caught 385,000lbs of fish and importers brought in 757,000lbs.

“However, in 2018, local fisherman caught 354,000lbs, while the importers brought in 1,150,080lbs.

“On average over the last five years, importers have brought in two times the entire annual local catch. When tourists ask for local fish, when Bermudians ask for local fish and when they want to serve it at functions, they expect and want fish caught in local waters.”

Mr Simmons said the co-operative would merge the interests of fishermen with the need for stewardship of the marine environment.

He said: “The concept is really about collective power — buying power, organising power and things of that nature.

“It's about all of them having a stake in this together, thinking together and strategising together.”

Mr Burt added: “In Bermuda we like to do things by ourselves and the market in Bermuda is not big enough for us all to do our individual thing.

“That's the beauty of co-operative economics and that's the reason why it is something the Government has pushed.”

Mr Burt said the time was right to launch the initiative given the amount of imported fish and the economic hardships Bermuda faced.

The Premier denied that the timing of the announcement was linked to the General Election.

Mr Burt said: “People will say anything that the Government says is towards electioneering.

“The fact is we are going to continue on our agenda. If we are not returned as government tomorrow, then hopefully the next government will pick this up.”

Willie Ferguson, chairman of Move Bermuda, left, and David Burt, the Premier (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

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Published October 01, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated October 01, 2020 at 2:22 pm)

Pilot fishing co-operative launched

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