A war of words that could lead to court action continues after Bermuda’s commercial fishermen gathered en masse to speak out against the impact of the Blue Ocean Prosperity Plan (BOPP) on their livelihood.

Nearly 200 fishermen were joined by local farmers last week at the Spanish Point Boat Club, where they charged that “this Government has been working secretly in an effort to make a deal with overseas billionaires, not Bermudians, to close off large sections of Bermuda’s resources from Bermudians, for the sole purpose of getting access to a blue prosperity fund”.

Speaking as Chairman of the Fishermen’s Association of Bermuda, Allan Bean insisted that the Government put a stop to the plans and sit down with the key stakeholders affected, “in full consultation with fishermen”.

Barring that, he said the fishermen may be forced to launch judicial review proceedings in the Supreme Court against the BOPP.

Home Affairs Minister Walter Roban refuted the association’s claims, saying their livelihood will remain intact and that there was no secret deal hatched.

Since then, Mr Bean has issued a follow up statement in response to the Minister’s comments as the war of words continues.

But the association maintains that the Government signed a memorandum of understanding in secret with the Waitt Foundation and the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences, back in April 2019.

And they contend that the deal was shrouded from public scrutiny with “strict non-disclosure obligations”.

Mr Bean said for the Minister to dismiss their claim was “laughable to say the least”.

“From the very outset, when this MOU was signed, everything was cloaked in secrecy,” he said.

“If they had any respect for the industry, they would’ve involved us before the MOU was signed. But no – what do they say – non-disclosure agreements and such.

“They didn’t want to hear from the stakeholders, the major stakeholders in a marine environment. The ones in an industry that spends more time on the ocean than any other group in the island, by a long ways, year-round.

“We don’t fish seasonally, we fish 360 days a year, 24/7 – that’s what our industry does. So, when the Minister makes a statement that had ample time – no, it was insufficient time.”

Mr Bean said he attended the public meeting held in Somerset and he was told that he was only allowed a minute and 30 seconds to talk.

“That’s not fair. In a minute and 30 seconds I was just ending my opening remarks,” he said.

“I had a lot to offer as the Chairman of the Fishermen’s Association, as Chairman of the Commercial Fishermen’s Council, which was picked by the Minister – I had a lot to bring to the table.

“The biggest stumbling block to our livelihood is the Marine Protected Areas (MPA),” he added.

“For some reason, the Minister, his advisors, Waitt Institute and such, want to initiate MPAs that would have an adverse effect on our industry.

“Instead of working with us to find out exactly what is out there, instead of working with us to find out where we are actively fishing, because we don’t fish one place all the time.

Asked by Bermuda Real for their response to the claim that Bermudas fish stocks are drying up, he said: “Any fisherman would tell you here there is nothing wrong with out stocks.

“Of course, the powers that be, the senior fisheries officer will say well that’s anecdotal information – you can’t prove it. But I could take it one step further – I said in my release that what we need is comprehensive stock analysis done on our resources, so that we could couple what the fishermen are seeing with the science and then we would know the state of our resources before the Minister implements new regulations.”

Mr Bean stated that the association has a range of options which they are exploring, including legal action. But he said: “We don’t want to go down that road yet.”

He appealed to government “to have the decency to sit down across the table from the fishermen and have a common goal – that is to sort out the problems that we are facing as a country in a marine environment”.

But ultimately, he said: “We’re going to take the case to the people – this is just the start.

To make it “abundantly clear”, he added: “I guarantee the Bermudian population that rely on our industry to feed them as a sign of food security – they number tens of thousands.

“So let me make it abundantly clear again, we will take the message to the people.

“The people will understand what we’re talking about – they could relate to us because a lot of them eat fish and a lot of them eat potatoes – I’m talking about the farmers now.

Local farmer Tom Wadson echoed the fisherman’s sentiment saying: “We are finding ourselves struggling with DENR as well.

“Junior just mentioned fish and potatoes – this could be the first year in the history of this country that they may not allow us to import seed potatoes to plant.

“I mean think about that – I’ve still got Bermuda potatoes up in my chill room – mind you it’s not the government one, which barely works. And we’re here because we are struggling with the same government entity.

“There are several farmers here out in the crowd, but we are the primary food producers in Bermuda.

“We are food security and I’ll tell you what else, it’s about time we had some input on this thing because some idiot was going mash up $3.2 million in a guranteed-failed venture called vertical farming.

“No consultation – this crowd needs to get a grip – that’s all I’m going say and we’re behind you 100 percent fishermen.”

Asked by TNN if the fishermen feel that they have been placed between a rock and a hard place, Mr Bean replied: “Currently, yes.

“The Government has put us in precarious position. We’re struggling – we’re fighting for our livelihood.

“Although our backs are up against the wall now, we know with persistence, commitment, unity that we will walk away from that wall stronger for the process knowing that there could be a bright future for us in our industry.

“There could be a bright future for the people of this island providing that we all work together as a unit for a common cause.

Asked if they think the Government is for Bermuda and Bermudians, Delvin Bean said: “It’s been proven over and over that is not true unfortunately.

“They are for themselves and unfortunately, something came out yesterday on one of our chats, which appalled all of us.

“If it became public right now, I think it might be a mini war. But we can’t because we are not out to fight right now.

“But right now, the way this group of people who are supposed to be supporting us from food costs to importing product, to security, it’s just not there. We’re not seeing it. So, they need to pick up their stuff and start doing what they’re supposed to do. But right now, they’re not doing it at all.”

Feature Photos By Bermuda Real