Bad Plan for Bermuda

A no-take zone is not the way to go

bermuda no take zone

bermuda no take zone

Three things come to mind when I think about Bermuda: knee-high Bermuda socks, Dark 'N Stormy rum drinks and world-class blue marlin fishing. However, the potential implications of a no-take marine reserve in Bermuda now resonate in my head. A recent issue of Marlin reported on developments that have advanced the potential creation of a large no-take marine reserve in the offshore waters of Bermuda, which could impact the world-class blue marlin fishing and the socioeconomic benefits generated by sport-fishing tourism.

Sustainable Development released the consultation document “Bermuda’s Exclusive Economic Zone and its Future,” which presented possible alternatives for the management of Bermuda’s Exclusive Economic Zone. The document lacked scientific justification and referenced research performed primarily by the Pew Environment Group rather than independent scientists and economists.

Instead of considering management options that allow flexibility, the Bermudian government is essentially considering only two options: the creation of a no-take marine reserve (varying in size from 47,000 to 90,000 square miles) or the status quo management of its EEZ with the regulations already in place.

Far more than two general options need to be put on the table. If ecological, social and economic impacts are not assessed accurately in the development of potential alternatives, resulting decisions could have adverse effects on stakeholders. There has been no convincing scientific evidence that a no-take marine reserve will provide any additional conservation benefits to Bermuda’s marine resources and economy.

The concept, often referred to as the “Bermuda Blue Halo,” is based on a philosophy that somehow justifies the creation of what would be the largest no-take reserve in the Atlantic Ocean. The use of no-take marine reserves is simply an attempt to take the easy way out of establishing effective management by ignoring other management principles.

Recreational fishing in Bermuda has a storied history, and the fishing in both offshore and nearshore Bermudian waters is an important cultural activity that has blossomed into a booming fishery for wahoo, tuna and billfish, drawing anglers from all over the world.

A study by Southwick Associates in 2012 estimated that 10,000 U.S. anglers travel every year to Bermuda to fish, providing significant socioeconomic benefits, including increased tax revenue and support for jobs. The Bermuda Department of Tourism understands the benefits, referring to sport fishing in the Bermuda National Tourism Master Plan as a “business opportunity.”

It seems that the benefits generated by sport fishing are often overlooked, and the perception of native Bermudians is that a large number of blue marlin and other species are killed in the tournaments. In fact, quite the opposite is true; you’ll find far more release flags flying from the outriggers after a day of fishing than dead marlin hanging at the dock.

Compared to other tournaments around the world, billfish tournaments in Bermuda set a precedent for the number of billfish released that other tournaments should aspire to attain. From a billfish conservation standpoint, the tournaments have set an example for increased conservation measures by establishing the minimum weight for a qualifying blue marlin at 500 pounds — far exceeding almost all of the minimum size requirements for blue marlin in tournaments around the United States and the rest of the world.

Decisions regarding a potential marine protected area should strive to minimize the impacts on current and potential sport-fishing opportunities in Bermuda by not limiting where anglers can fish. Bermuda already has the ability to enforce its EEZ from international fishing boats; a no-take marine reserve is not required to do so. Under Article 56 of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, in which Bermuda is a signatory by way of being an overseas territory of the United Kingdom, Bermuda has

the “sovereign rights for the purpose of exploring, conserving and managing the natural resources.”

The problem, as with many small Caribbean and Central American countries, is not the laws or regulations on the books but rather the fact that personnel and resources are inadequate to effectively defend against illegal fishing within Bermuda’s EEZ. To solve this issue, Bermuda proposes the use of satellite technology to increase enforcement and believes the U.S. Coast Guard would assist in enforcement of Bermuda’s EEZ only if a park is established — something that seems very unlikely. A marine protected area without adequate enforcement is simply a “paper park” masquerading as a conservation effort. The reality is, it provides no additional or meaningful conservation benefits.

Bermuda has several options to consider if it determines a marine protected area is in fact a beneficial management tool to meet its conservation goals. By considering only a completely no-take marine reserve, Bermuda is ignoring other options that may be more beneficial. A framework has been established by the World Commission on Protected Areas by the International Union for Conservation of Nature for classifying marine protected areas depending upon the goals and objectives of the desired area.

Ranging from nonextractive research and nonextractive traditional use to allowing aquaculture and seafloor
mining, different marine protected area categories could be implemented that would both meet conservation goals and allow for potential socioeconomic benefits for the country. Without getting too far into the details, Bermuda could still show its desired commitment to conservation to the international community without creating a large no-take zone that is not likely to create any increased conservation benefits and will have large impacts on key stakeholders.

By the time you have this magazine in your hands, The Billfish Foundation will have furthered the process of working with Bermuda's Department of Sustainable Development to ensure sport-fishing interests are not impacted in this process. The goal is to demonstrate the important socioeconomic benefits of sport fishing in Bermuda, which have been vastly overlooked in the consultation process, and showing that other options for managing natural resources are available. While defaulting to the establishment of a no-take marine reserve may be the easiest solution to implement, it is not the most effective solution for balancing conservation goals with potential economic development in Bermuda. To find out more, visit