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Listen to our fishers – they are stewards of our ocean, an OpEd from Marcus Jones, JP, former OBA Senator and the OBA Candidate for Constituency #19, Pembroke West

In our preparation to become the next government, the One Bermuda Alliance (OBA) has committed to an ever-diminishing characteristic in modern-day politics: the ‘Art of Listening.’ Various organizations are welcomed into our Caucus, so we can listen to their concerns and hear the solutions they want implemented in Bermuda.

Recently this led to a series of face-to-face meetings with the Fishermen’s Association of Bermuda (FAB), to learn about their interactions with the current Government, including those concerning the Bermuda Oceans Prosperity Plan (BOPP). Here is what we learned:

  • The FAB, and fishers in general, have a deep love and concern for our marine environment. They prioritize the preservation of our ocean habitat for the fish and living organisms residing there. They wish to continue their commercial livelihood, and to provide recreational enjoyment for both locals and tourists alike.
  • Despite historical differences between Government and the FAB in years gone by, today’s FAB seeks to work in partnership with government.
  • The FAB believe the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for BOPP, agreed by Government, the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS), and the Waitt Institute, lacks buy-in from a major stakeholder: commercial fishers in Bermuda.
  • Protecting 20% of Bermuda waters is not the problem. Rather it is the label of ‘Full Protection’, which would prohibit any fishing from surface to ocean floor. The FAB instead propose varying levels of protection, which would achieve marine protection, but also maintain livelihoods for those in our small fishing industry.
  • The FAB stress they are stewards of the ocean, spending more time at sea than other stakeholders. They note with concern that existing regulations are not enforced, owing to insufficient resources in both manpower and equipment. They ask how any new BOPP guardrails will be monitored or policed? They propose a comprehensive Marine Plan, with sufficient resources made available.

It should be obvious to all that mutual respect and trust is needed between both parties as this represents the core problem. Is this ‘Trust Deficit’ insurmountable with the present Government?

What is needed is a Marine Management Plan preserving and protecting our marine life, while also maintaining the livelihoods of our commercial fishermen – a livelihood that has serviced this island for over 400 years.

We understand those behind BOPP have set their goal. They wish:

“To foster the sustainable, profitable and enjoyable use of ocean resources for present and future generations”

The BOPP statement encapsulates the sentiments of every user of our ocean.

I would encourage everyone to read Bermuda’s Draft Blue Prosperity Plan (www.bermudaocenprosperity.org) to gain greater insight on the genesis of this plan, its governance and long-term vision. The Minister of Home Affairs introduces this Plan by highlighting its merits, predicting how it will minimize environmental impacts and become the cornerstone of our ‘Blue Economy.’ Yet if all this hard work fails to include the input and experience of our valued fishers, then this is a wasted effort.

Local fishers make up a significant part of the Bermudian family. We were told by FAB that if BOPP is approved, 50% of the active commercial fishers will be forced out of business. How many of our brothers and sisters will be left with no means of supporting themselves and their families?

Stop for a moment to consider the hundreds of thousands of dollars invested by our Bermudian fishers into boats and equipment. Consider also the time and effort this small but vital industry commits to providing fish to Bermudians. Unless middle ground is found with the FAB, the industry that feeds our people will be lost.

A popular phrase these days is ‘Food Security’. One need only recall the COVID pandemic to appreciate how exposed Bermuda remains. Certain goods and products were unavailable. If our island were unable to import food, our local fishers would continue to provide.

To our local fishers, the OBA has listened intently, to your concerns. We value your initiative in devising your Marine Management Plan. We understand your desire to sustain the long-term health of our waters. We recognize that successive governments have ignored your solutions. We understand you are frustrated, and had to leave the negotiating table with Government because of the lack of respect that was shown to you and your concerns.

The OBA believes the way forward requires meaningful discussion. Trust needs to be restored – concerns need to be heard. Common sense solutions can be found. The OBA hopes that the new body appointed in March by Minister Roban to assess stakeholder recommendations and proposed amendments to BOPP will give full and proper consideration to the plan from the FAB.

Fishers, like taxi owners and farmers, are entrepreneurs. They possess a single-minded focus to be successful in their economic pursuits. They excel on their terms, using sweat equity and smarts. They are resilient, resourceful, and will resort to their own means of survival to feed their families.

Government must not simply press ahead without listening. Were Bermuda to impose BOPP as it currently stands – and lose this vital fishing industry – that would be a tragedy.

The OBA believes the FAB and its supporters need a seat at the table. And not in any token sense. In a meaningful way, that restarts the process with a clean sheet of paper. The OBA has listened. We believe the Government should too. If the Government continues to refuse to listen and work with you, we stand ready to do so.

The well-being of future generations depends on it.