Fishermen threaten legal action to stop marine conservation plan – The Royal Gazette |

Fishermen band together in protest to the Ocean Prosperity Plan (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Angry fishermen have threatened the Government with legal action over a sweeping marine conservation strategy they said was hatched in secret.

The Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme, unveiled in August, proposes marine protection areas with 20 per cent of the island’s waters to be deemed “fully protected”.

Fishermen have opposed the plans in public forums.

Allan Bean, chairman of the Fishermen’s Association of Bermuda, gives an ultimatum against the Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Plan (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

Now, the Fishermen’s Association of Bermuda has demanded a halt to the plans. It shared a lawyer’s letter sent to the Ministry of Home Affairs on November 10, threatening judicial review proceedings against the BOPP.

Surrounded by a 150-strong crowd, association chairman Allan Bean called for a halt, followed by a redrawing of conservation areas “in full consultation with fishermen”.

Mr Bean claimed that the Government had signed a memorandum of understanding in secret with the Waitt Foundation global non-profit group, as well as the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, in April 2019.

He said the deal had been shielded from public scrutiny with “strict non-disclosure obligations”.

“Bermuda, don’t be fooled – this Government has been working secretly in an effot to make a deal with overseas billionaires, not Bermudians, to close off large sections of Bermuda’s resources from Bermudians, for the sole purpose of getting access to a blue prosperity fund,” Mr Bean said.

Government hits back at fishermen’s “significantly misleading” broadside

Fishermen’s livelihoods “will remain intact” under marine conservation plans leaving 80 per cent of the island’s waters free for fishing, the Government said.

A rebuttal to allegations of secrecy over the plans said fishermen had been involved since its launch in 2019, with commercial and recreational fishing representatives “directly involved in drafting the Blue Prosperity Plan”.

“From the onset, the Government has sought to develop the Bermuda Blue Prosperity Plan in a fully consultative and collaborative manner.”

Its steering committee included the Commercial Fisheries Council and the Government heard concerns outside official meetings.

The statement said “extensive outreach” came with designing the proposal, with special effort to “reach out to the fishing sector” for surveys.

Fishermen accused the Government of seeking only investment rather than conservation – but the response said “no specific project has yet been selected for dedicated funding”.

Consultation continues on the draft proposal, which the Government called “a starting point” that would be modified and then made public.

“We will continue dedicating significant effort to meet with stakeholder groups, including individual fishermen and members of the association, to get input.”

Fishermen also cried foul over poor oversight of existing fishing regulations.

But the Government said the coastguard was partnered with Fisheries Enforcement, which was “currently at full strength”.

The island’s membership of the UK Blue Belt Ocean Shield Programme had also boosted access to surveillance and monitoring equipment at no cost to the public purse.

The association was urged to “continue engaging and participating in the project”.

The Government’s full response, which runs to more than 3,300 words, can be found under related media.

The association represents the island’s commercial and charter fishermen.

Walter Roban, the home affairs minister, has highlighted the plan’s potential to draw investment – but Mr Bean insisted the proposal was “more about money than it is the management, protection and enforcement of our environment”.

The Royal Gazette has asked the ministry for a response to the allegations.

Mr Bean said fishermen supported “sound management practices” but maintained there was only lax enforcement of existing rules.

He said the island’s commercial fish stocks were “healthy and sustainable”.

“We do not need to be told by a foreign entity, either by direct involvement or subtle, behind the scenes influence, how to manage and take care of our surrounding waters,” he added.

Mr Bean was guarded on what next steps the association would take.

He said that if the Government failed to sit at the table with fishermen, then they would have to take it to the “next level”.

“We have a range of options we are currently exploring”, he added. “We are going to take our case to the people.”

He said fishermen had given input to the steering committee that worked on the plans but that their suggestions were routinely ignored.

Mr Bean’s brother, Delvin, who is also a fisherman, added: “We know more about the stocks and fish movement, everything in Bermuda’s waters, than all these groups in the steering committee combined – but because we do not carry a PhD, they don’t listen to us.”

Others at the meeting spoke out. Fisherman Monte Ible said their community was incapable of overburdening the island’s marine resources.

“How can we overfish this island with hand lines and a rod and reel?”

Tom Wadson, a farmer who said excessive regulations were preventing seed potatoes from reaching the island and thus jeopardising the next potato crop, told the meeting that farmers were “behind you 100 per cent, fishermen”.

Ian Linnell, an inshore fishing guide for visitors, said his company Jump dem Bones Bermuda brought him a livelihood from tourism, not fishing.

“We are closing off inshore waters – that’s my business,” he said. “I release fish. You’re not taking that away. No way.”

Clifton Lambert, 76, said he had been part of the fishing group that located rockfish spawning grounds far offshore many years ago and had informed fisheries officials of their findings.

Mr Lambert said that rockfish, popular for eating, were not being depleted. “That area is still as strong as it was then,” he added.

The BOPP plan’s original window for consultation was extended from November 12 until the end of December.

But the letter from Richard Horseman, the association’s lawyer, said the consultation appeared to be “a campaign to shore up the original MOU” to sidestep issues that proved troublesome for the Bermuda Blue Halo proposal in 2014.

The letter said the association had “temporarily ceased participation in the consultation process given its lack of proportionate representation”.

It charged that “significant outside funding” was coming online to achieve “the Waitt Foundation’s goal of controlling our waters” – while there was little to support fishermen, most of whom relied on other jobs to make a living.

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