[Written by Senator Michael Fahy, Shadow Minister for Environment, Planning & Housing]
I made two points in relation to this scheme. The first was that it seemed to conflict with the Government’s proposal to create one of the world’s largest maritime reserves in the Exclusive Economic Zone. The Pew Environmental Group, from whom the Government has sought assistance in creating this zone, hopes to turn 94% of the EEZ into a marine reserve. The benefits will be enormous – including the ability to market Bermuda as an environmental haven.
The second was that fishermen in deep water are commonly long liners – that is, they use fishing lines that are sometimes as much as 50 miles long, with thousands of baited hooks attached. This is a method of fishing that has been attacked by environmental groups world-wide for the collateral damage it causes. The United Nations has been asked to ban long line fishing by 705 international scientists from 83 countries and 230 non-governmental organizations from 54 countries, yet the Bermuda Government seems to know better.
I am disappointed that the Government seems not to have taken any steps at all to make their intentions clearer, other than to suggest that unmanned aerial vehicles could keep a watch on things. This is a fundamental choice they’re proposing to make on Bermuda’s behalf. Are we going to be on the side of the angels – those who are trying to preserve the world’s oceans and fish populations? Or are we going to be on the side of the long liners? Surely, this is a choice the public has a right to be given at least some basic information about.
My purpose in this article is to challenge the Government to answer some questions about what they’re doing and how far along they’ve managed to get with their plans.
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.
Has the Government made its intentions known to, or asked the advice of, any of the international marine conservation organizations? 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?
Has the Government undertaken cost/benefit analyses of licensing foreign fishing vessels to fish in Bermuda’s Exclusive Economic Zone versus the cost-benefit analysis of legislating 94% of Bermuda’s Exclusive Economic Zone as a Marine Protected Area? What were the results of those studies?
Were local fishermen consulted about this licensing scheme? Did they agree with the idea?
The public deserves some answers.
Interestingly the Government’s paper “A Strategy for the Sustainable Use of Bermuda’s Living Marine Resources” indicated that the swordfish would be the primary long liner catch in Bermuda waters. Here are some frightening statistics. In the Atlantic, at the turn of the last Century, the average swordfish landed weighed 300 to 400 pounds. 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.
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% 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.
- Michael Fahy