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Fahy questions idea of licencing foreign fishing boats, calls for a marine protection area

Government is being called upon to turn its Exclusive Economic Zone into a Marine Protected Area, if it wants to protect the environment and generate revenue.

Michael Fahy, Environment Shadow Minister issued a statement saying that there were a number of unanswered questions regarding idea of licensing foreign vessels to fish in Bermuda’s EEZ.

Mr Fahy has opposed the idea on environmental grounds, saying it conflicts with Government’s own proposal to create a maritime reserve in the EEZ and working with the Pew Environmental Group which wants to turn 94 percent of the EEZ into a marine reserve.

And he has issued a warning over the dangers of longline fishing which includes unintentionally decimating stocks of other fish.

“Have they talked with other countries about whether they’d accept an invitation to fish in our waters? If they have, I think we ought to know when the approaches were made, what countries were involved and what answers they gave,” Mr Fahy’s statement says.

“Has the Government made its intentions known to, or asked the advice of, any of the international marine conservation organisations?

“Is the Government satisfied that what it intends to do is in accordance with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea and other such conventions? Has the British Government been consulted? If so, what was its reaction?”

Mr Fahy is also asking whether Government has done a cost-benefit analysis of licencing foreign fishing vessels in comparison to “the cost-benefit analysis of legislating 94 percent of Bermuda’s Exclusive Economic Zone as a Marine Protected Area”

He also wants to know whether local fishermen had been consulted about the licencing scheme.

And he pointed to Government’s paper “A Strategy for the Sustainable Use of Bermuda’s Living Marine Resources” which identified the swordfish as the primary long line fishing catch in Bermuda’s waters.

Mr Fahy said that the “frightening statistics” are that the weight of the average swordfish caught in the Atlantic was 300 to 400 pounds, at the turn of the last Century, but by 1963, the average fish landed weighed 266 pounds, and in 1996, the average fish weighed only 90 pounds.

“The facts that the size of fish being harvested continues to shrink, and that almost all individuals are juveniles, are classic symptoms of overfishing,” he said.

“Several species of tuna sharing similar life history traits are showing similar declines. The largest tuna, blue fin, has been fished to near extinction.

“Recent scientific studies suggest that top predatory fish populations have decreased by 90 percent in the past 50 years, and long lining has been identified as the primary cause.

“It seems to us that rather than licence foreign trawlers, which the Government says could be policed by unmanned aerial vehicles, we could use those very same drones to enforce the proposed Marine Protected Areas to catch vessels fishing illegally. This in itself could generate revenue.

“We believe that Bermuda’s EEZ should be turned into a MPA. After all, it is what the Government wanted in 2010 as well.”

Environment Minister Marc Bean is off the Island and did not react to Mr Fahy’s comments.

But in a press conference early this month, the Minister assured the public that exploiting the EEZ would not necessarily conflict with the environmental protection agenda, saying that Government saw the need to protect the Sargasso Sea, very little of which is in the EEZ.

“By the same token, our responsibility as a Government before the environment takes a priority, is economic activity. So, finding that balance means just this we might take the approach of banning international vessels from operating in our Exclusive Economic Zone,” he said.

“Even if we do so, we’re still going to be looking at the opportunity to allowing indigenous offshore fishery to be created. It’s all about sustainability. Resources were put on this earth for man to harness, to help us advance our economic development and also our peace and stability.

“The key today is to ensure that what you harness, what you utilise you do not deplete.”

Mr Bean also addressed concerns by environmentalists and made it clear that final decisions had not been made. He said that bycatch was the main concern, and Government was looking at the three options with respect to the EEZ.

Leaving the EEZ unregulated would continue a situation in which the bycatch is not monitored.

The other option is a licencing regime. “And the third option, which is certainly on the table, is to take a protectionist stance and create a ban on the international vessels,” he said. “We have legislation in place fines up to a million dollars and we can also seize or confiscate the vessel itself.

“Right now we are looking at all three options. I don’t think being unregulated is something that we will continue to pursue, so whether we allow them or we ban them from fishing, it’s still going to require a high degree of enforcement. But we will make sure that the decision we make looks to the long term sustainability of our offshore fishery.”

A fish caught by longline fishing is hauled from a ice box in this file picture. The OBA is calling for Bermuda's waters to be made a marine protected area and have questioned the idea of licencing foreign fishing boats to harvest the seas around the Island.

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Published March 12, 2012 at 10:05 am (Updated March 12, 2012 at 10:04 am)

Fahy questions idea of licencing foreign fishing boats, calls for a marine protection area

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