BNT RESPONDS TO ILLEGAL LONGLINE FISHING PRACTICES SUGGESTED BY MEMBER OF PARLIAMENT

BAHAMAS NATIONAL TRUST·WEDNESDAY, APRIL 29, 2020·READING TIME: 4 MINUTES

The Bahamas National Trust (BNT) acknowledges the economic challenges presented by an unprecedented global crisis and the need for diversification of the Bahamian economy. However, it notes with concern the remarks made by Member of Parliament for Long Island, Adrian Gibson, that the government consider allowing longline fishing to take place within the territorial waters of The Bahamas. Mr. Gibson is quoted in The Nassau Guardian, originally published on April 21, 2020. The BNT would like the public to be reminded that longline fishing has been banned, outlawed, and criminalized in The Bahamas since 1993. In the early 1990s, the BNT, alongside other concerned groups, successfully lobbied the government to ban longline fishing. The advocacy and awareness campaign around the devastating implications of longlining was a triumphant success. Fortunately, visionary and progressive decisions to completely ban this fishing practice from our country were agreed to. Later, in 2011 shark fishing was outlawed. Eric Carey, Executive Director, Bahamas National Trust, stated: “The BNT strongly discourages any reconsideration by the government to allow this utterly destructive methodology to be allowed in The Bahamas. Longlining is extremely wasteful and its introduction would result in the reversal and eclipsing of the many conservation successes The Bahamas has realized over the past few decades. It is not in the best interest or the welfare of Bahamian fishermen.” Longline fishing involves the use of thousands of baited hooks on lines which extend many kilometres (km) behind the boat. This fishing method targets fish near the surface with floats, and fish near the bottom using weights. It is impossible to ensure that only the desired fish are caught and as a result huge numbers of non-targeted species are caught, dragged along, and eventually destroyed. This controversial fishing practice would decimate deep water species such as tuna and blue marlin- sought after pelagic gamefish that are important to our tourism sector in value that would exceed commercial catch by Bahamian vessels. It would wipe out our sharks, which are important predators, that contribute to a $115 million shark tourism industry. The lines will also kill endangered turtles and get caught on coral reefs, suffocating these vital ecosystems and killing marine life. Finally, this industry will contribute to pollution of our ocean with entangled fishing line that takes decades to biodegrade. Mr. Gibson’s statement: ‘The potential for fishing is limitless,’ is erroneous and has no grounding in reality or science. Fish exist in finite quantities and overfishing has entirely eradicated any number of species around the world, and placed many other marine animals in extreme peril. “Pelagic species such as tuna, mahi-mahi, blue marlin and wahoo are among the least studied in our oceans. They are migratory fish that congregate in great numbers to feed, which often gives the perception of plenty, but their habits are more complex. A leading question on the minds of marine scientists is: how can you responsibly manage a fishery when there are still so many unknowns about current populations,” asks Shelley Cant-Woodside, Director of Science, Bahamas National Trust. The BNT does not oppose exploring the feasibility of developing sustainable fisheries, but it is emphatically opposed to the establishment of an unsustainable longline fishery within The Bahamas. In fact, The BNT continues its advocacy to ensure that fish are sustainably harvested in the country, using innovation instead of the regurgitation of potentially catastrophic practices. The BNT is currently working alongside The Bahamas Department of Marine Resources and other strategic partners to work on strengthening the Fisheries Act, which includes keeping industrial-scale and unsustainable fishery methods like longline fishing, drift netting and trawling out of Bahamian waters. It is known that longline poaching in our waters takes place, especially at times like these when the perception is that no one is closely monitoring such activity. Alternative solutions in the absence of RBDF patrols could be pursued through collaborative agreements with those countries whose vessels are known to illegally longline in The Bahamas’ Exclusive Fisheries Zone. Such agreements could include: tracking vessels movements and landings at their ports. Taking a strong stance is imperative, opposed to a futile backpedaling of a ban. These topics underscore the importance of having national parks and marine protected areas. Nature reserves act as a refuge- where ecosystems are healthier and less stressed- and where no-touch zones and no-kill zones exist. National parks protect marine species and environments in all corners of the archipelago. As such they offer the best opportunity to successfully apply science-based strategies and conservation measures that inform national policy and best practices. Our work at the BNT helps protect the biodiversity of the vibrant oceans that are essential to our Bahamian way of life- for both our immediate needs and for those of future generations. To learn more about the role that the BNT plays to manage terrestrial and marine nation parks, protect species that inhabit them, and inform environmental policy, please visit its website: www.bnt.bs and follow/subscribe to various social media channels: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and YouTube. Photo by Francesco Ungaro on Unsplash

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