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Minister says longline fishing petition is based on ‘false premise’

One Bermuda Alliance MP Cole Simons presented a petition against licensing foreign fishing vessels to the House of Assembly yesterday, but Environment Minister Marc Bean charged that the petition was based on a “false premise.”

The document by Peter Barrett carried 2,200 signatures against longline foreign fishing vessels that catch fish within Bermuda’s 200-mile Exclusive Economic Zone. It calls for legislation banning longline fishing to prevent the wholesale destruction of Bermuda’s marine environment.

According to Mr Barrett, Bermuda would be far better off managing the marine environment with the aim of developing eco-tourism.

Mr Simons was one of the first to rise on the floor of the House to tell his parliamentary colleagues the Opposition supports the petition because “longline fishing is only a marginally profitable industry.”

But Environment Minister Marc Bean was quick to take issue with the OBA member’s presentation.

“When the Premier made mention of the fact that we were going to look at the feasibility of licensing international vessels on February 24, at no point did the Premier mention that this was set in stone.

“She said possibility, the probability and the feasibility; this led to consultation with the British Government at the highest level.”

The petition with all of its signatures he said: “Is based on a false premise, I wouldn’t say by the entire Opposition, but certainly by certain members of the Opposition. The Shadow Minister who sits in another place has been continuing to put forward false information.

“Not once did we bring any evidence of any member of the public having concerns for international vessels currently operating as we speak in Bermuda, unregulated, and not monitored, which causes the greatest environmental threat and challenges.

“I just don’t understand this exercise of futility being conducted and driven by certain members, and I emphasise certain members because I have spoken to members on the opposite side.

“Generally they are in agreement, and if they are not they have been humble enough to come and approach me to ask questions for clarification.”

Mr Simons told members of the House that “International studies have documented that many vessels tend to lose money or earn only very small returns. Sports fishing will truly be compromised, Bermuda is home to the premier blue marlin sports fishery in the world which earns it millions of dollars a year from visiting sport fishermen.

“There will be less visiting fishing boats and reduced international game fishing tournaments.”

Mr Simons noted that many billfish and sharks that have little commercial value but are very important to recreational anglers are killed every year by longliners and that many of these species “play a critical role in maintaining the health of marine ecosystems.”

He warned that endangered species are vulnerable to longlines. “Of particular concern to Bermuda is the endangered Bermuda Petrel (the Cahow) which, as a seabird, may be vulnerable to longliners as well.

“Longline gear is passively fished and left unattended for hours, mortality rates for bycatch can be quite high. The Bermuda Government must introduce legislation that will ban the use of longline fishing in Bermuda’s 200-mile maritime exclusive zone.”

Mr Bean charged: “We’ve had an expanded waste of energy bringing a petition to this House on something the Government never even made a solid position on. I wonder how many of those signatories actually consume sushi.”

The remark triggered a loud burst of laughter, Mr continued: “The same techniques that they’re signing against are the same techniques that provide sushi, which is a high demand food item in this country.”

The Speaker, Stanley Lowe replied: “I like it!”

Mr Bean continued: “The Government’s position is that we are going to develop or facilitate the development of a shore side facility and we’re going to look at the exploitation of our natural resource in this country for the benefit of Bermudians.

“We’re going to use it through the good graces and ability of local fishermen. The question is what do we do with the international vessels that are currently pillaging our resource, do we ban them or do we license them, that’s the issue.”

Last week Mr Bean told the House of Assembly that Government has decided against licensing foreign fishing vessels. Instead it is now looking at ways of catching illegal fishers and fining them and the OBA gave a cautious welcome to the news.

After consultation with technical staff Mr Bean said the Government has decided that the option of licensing international fishing vessels is not in Bermuda’s best interest.

“Instead, the Government has opted to assess ways to enhance enforcement capabilities so that illegal fishers can be apprehended. Current Fisheries legislation allows for a fine of up to $1 million for any person on-board a foreign fishing vessel who takes fish within the Exclusive Economic Zone without a licence.”

But Mr Bean added: “The people of Bermuda should be aware that this Government will continue to encourage local fishermen who wish to engage in offshore fishing.”

Shadow Environment Minister Michael Fahy congratulated the Minister on what he said was a reversal of his “earlier decision to license foreign vessels to fish in Bermuda’s 200-mile maritime zone.

“I believe he has made a decision that will go a long way to ensuring that Bermuda continues to play a positive part in the conservation of the Atlantic Ocean environment.

“It would be a great shame if the Minister’s reversal had the effect of simply swapping one set of longline fishermen for another.”

In this file picture a fisherman pulls a fish from storage aboard a vessel that undertook longline fishing in Bermuda's waters four years ago. Govt will not pursue go ahead with its idea of allow foreign fishing vessels to fish in the Island's Economic Zone.

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Published March 20, 2012 at 9:49 am (Updated March 20, 2012 at 9:49 am)

Minister says longline fishing petition is based on ‘false premise’

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