Royal Gazette July 5th 2008
By Tim Smith and Amanda Dale
Environment Minister El James yesterday tabled legislation aimed at protecting Bermuda's coral reefs for future generations.
Maximum fines for breaking regulations under the Fisheries Act 1972 will leap from $5,000 to $25,000, with the maximum jail sentence up from one year to two years, under the Fisheries Amendment Act 2008.
Mr. James said offenders targeted in the updated law included people who steal "ornaments" from reefs.
"Coral reefs they see on this island are probably the healthiest they see anywhere," Mr. James told the House of Assembly.
"These precious natural assets will be protected by this legislation so future residents and visitors can receive the numerous benefits which they provide.
"The one thing with the marine and the environment you do not get is a second chance. When you rip up a reef, there is no second chance. That's gone forever.
"There's no measure that's too severe to deter individuals from taking advantage and just being thoughtless when they are out there in this marine life."
The legislation also includes repeals to parts of the Fisheries Amendment Act 2006, made law under Mr. James' predecessor Neletha Butterfield.
Deputy Opposition Leader Cole Simons said there had been a raft of fisheries legislation in recent years, put forward by a string of different Ministers.
"All I can say on this issue is shame, shame, shame, shame," said Mr. Simons.
"We are talking about a sustainable fishing industry — it appears this Government is not clear as to what is the best way forward." Later in the debate, Mr. James said in the past three years, two marine areas had been protected — for blue-striped grunt and also black grouper.
"Ongoing research (into fish populations) is being done at all times," said Mr. James.
"It was also said we are doing nothing regarding regulation of fishermen. Once this Act is done, yes.
"We realise there's some fishermen out there who are rogues. There's even some commercial fishermen who are selling imported fish, and some who do not have a licence who go out and get fish to sell to restaurants. These are the people who we will target. We will go after them.
"And the question came up how do we monitor individuals who take more than one rockfish and who break the law. Well we can't catch them all. That's why we are appealing to the general public.
"All of us are stewards and if there's something happening out there we want the general public to let us know because it affects all of us."
Mr. James described penalties of the old fishing act as "out of date".
Commenting on the 2006 act with its two-tier licensing regime, Mr. James said: "The recreational licensing regime was never brought into force. The licensing regime is therefore being repealed and is to just issue a (one) licence as existed before."
Mr. Simons said: "Is the Minister at some point in the future going to reintroduce the two-tier licences while we have a recreational fishing licence going forward, and can he give us some timeline? Will that be brought in in the next year or two years?"
Mr. James responded: "We are reviewing it right now. The recreational licence is the only way to get the data on recreational fishermen, to find out what is being done around here. We have to have the data, so we are reviewing that right now."
The Bill was approved without amendment.