Management: Tammy Trott, senior marine resources officer for the Department of Conservation Services, talked about a programme to regulate recreational fishing. *Photo supplied
Management: Tammy Trott, senior marine resources officer for the Department of Conservation Services, talked about a programme to regulate recreational fishing. *Photo supplied
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 20: Bermuda recently joined the world in raising awareness about the serious threats facing our oceans and how we can help to tackle them. In the wake of World Oceans Day, the Bermuda Sun decided to focus on some of the themes and events taking place on the island.

Government is looking to gather detailed information about the largely unregulated recreational fishing that takes place in Bermuda’s waters according to senior marine resource officer for the Department of Environmental Protection, Dr Tammy Trott.

Dr Trott was speaking at the World Oceans Day talk at HSBC Harbourview Centre this month where experts addressed the public about the research, management and activism surrounding marine conservation in Bermuda.

Dr Trott said that government recently conducted a shoreline survey and mail out to boat owners to get an estimate on the numbers being caught around Bermuda recreationally. The exercise revealed that while most individuals do not catch great numbers of fish, their combined catch amounted to about 80 per cent of fish caught commercially.

“Recreational fishing is something we are really going to have to look at in the coming years,” said Dr Trott. “To manage our marine resources for the benefit of everyone we need to know what is coming out of the ocean. We don’t get a lot of information from recreational fishermen aside from recreational lobster diving and we have just licenced spearfishers so they are required to give data...

“But we want a comprehensive plan for the whole (Bermuda) platform — everyone in Bermuda has a stake in this.”

Dr Trott explained that government had recently increased the minimum catch size of black groupers from 75 centimetres to 95 centimetres because fishermen were trolling in the shallows for black grouper and were catching a lot of the smaller fish which are all female.

“We were very concerned about the spawning stock of the population so we have raised the minimum size which will allow a large majority of females to reproduce before turning into males,” she said.

Dr Trott also outlined how the Bermuda government is leading the initiative to work with the Sargasso Sea Alliance to create the world’s first high seas marine protected area. She said: “Bermuda could be one of the first to have a whole integrated system of ocean management from the shoreline right out to international waters and that would make us leaders in marine conservation.”

Director of Global Ocean Legacy Bermuda for the Pew Environment Group Chris Flook took to the podium to talk about the Bermuda Blue Halo Project which could be the first step in moving towards creating such a large marine protected area. Pew is helping to facilitate a government-led plan to create a smaller marine reserve in Bermuda’s waters with a view to protecting our waters from foreign vessels fishing here illegally. The plan does not propose to affect local fishing in any way. Mr Flook said that such a marine reserve would set a precedent and would also lead the way for the much larger protected area that Ms Trott talked about in her presentation. (See for previous stories on this).

Dr Philippe Rouja, custodian of historic wrecks for the Department of Conservation Services, focused largely on how Bermuda has often led the way in terms of conservation. He showed a recent picture of a large aggregation in Bermuda of spotlight parrotfish — one of the primary fish caught in the fish pots before they were banned in 1990.

“That ban sent a message out to the world,” he said, “and more importantly created something quite substantial here as well and the reason you are seeing them in those numbers is because of that ban.”

He continued to explain how the fish pot ban had put Bermuda on the map and attracted the attention of world-class scientists.

“In 2009 a talk was given at Smithsonian istitute titled The Success Stories of the Sea,” he recalled. “They were having a hard time recruiting ocean scientists because it was all doom and gloom. We needed to start telling some success stories and Bermuda was one of the ten countries that was highlighted first… We were invited to a meeting with some of the world’s top ocean scientists including Sylvia Earle — it was the first time Sargasso Sea was mentioned.

“That meeting led directly to the formation of the Sargasso Sea Alliance. It grew directly from the things that people did 20 years ago to protect the oceans around Bermuda.

“You can’t tell where these stories that spin off, will stop.

“While our actions may seem very isolated and small, they start to have bigger significance ripple effect”.

The Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences research specialist Tim Noyes outlined some of the projects being carried out at the world-class station.

He talked about some of the new methods being used there including the use of light to measure the health of our coral reefs. He explained: “We are aiming to measure light as reflected from coral colonies — and use it as a proxy of health.

“The changes in the levels give an indication of the amount of pigment in the coral and it has been shown that the amount of pigment gives an indication of the status of the coral — its health. It is like taking its pulse.

“So our aim is to go out to the majority of sites on the map and new areas and establish a baseline for the coral pigments — the idea being that some time soon we will be able to give a definitive answer to whether it is healthy or not.”

Finally, he talked about BIOS’s educational outreach programmes to provide educational outreach to local students.

There were several booths in the foyer of the HSBC Harbourview Centre informing the guests about various conservation and research projects taking place nationally including the Ocean Support Foundation’s lionfish management project and the Bermuda Alliance of the Sargasso Sea’s formation to support of the Sargasso Sea Alliance.