FRIDAY, JULY 27: A new $450 licence to help environmental watchdogs police catches of threatened species by sport fishermen has been introduced.
International anglers arriving for prestige tournaments now have to pay for licences, which Government says will help protect fish like blue and white marlin and tuna.
A spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Protection said that Bermuda had international responsibilities to protect fish stocks and were required by international conventions to monitor both commercial and sport fishing.
The spokeswoman added: “By imposing some restrictions and requiring the reporting of fishing activities, the foreign sport fishing vessel licence will improve Bermuda’s ability to manage these species.”
The spokeswoman said the licence fee was set after looking at similar fees elsewhere and the quality of fishing available around the island.
The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) last year adopted strict rules for the release of marlin caught by industrial vessels, while countries were asked to “manage fishing mortality by the non-industrial fleet”.
ICCAT said there was “grave concern about the over-fished state of the blue marlin and white marlin stocks in the Atlantic Ocean”.
Many fish in local tournaments are tagged and released.
Some international sports fishermen had to wait up to three days to get one of the new licences to compete in Bermuda waters, according to organisers of the Bermuda Triple Crown Billfish Blast, held earlier this month.
This year was the first time overseas anglers needed the licence — but those who arrived for the competition over the weekend had to wait until Monday to visit the Fisheries Office in the Botanical Gardens to get their licence.
Dan Jacobs, series producer of the Bermuda Triple Crown, said: “The process of getting the licences was a little bit cumbersome this year.
“But that is always the case with a new initiative. We hope that by next year the process will be automated and the skippers will be able to apply for the licence online before they arrive.
“The problem we did see this year was that when boats arrived on a Friday or Saturday they had to wait until the following Monday before the Fisheries Office opened in the Botanical Gardens to get their licence. But it was a minor irritation.”
Licences were delivered
A spokeswoman for the Department of Environmental Protection said that a staff member processed and delivered licences to moored boats over two weekends.
She added: “Once licence applications were received, skippers were given permission to start fishing immediately but were advised to come to the main office of the department as soon as possible to pay for their licence.
“The department will be looking at how this process can be improved in the future to service these valued customers.”
It is not unusual for game fishers to have to pay a licence fee — in Bahamas the fee is $300 — but the Bermuda fee is one of the highest.
The licence charge is a one-off fee and enables the boats to fish for the entire duration of their stay in Bermuda.
The Bermuda Sun reported recently that the big July tournaments netted the island’s economy as much as $5m.
Mr Jacobs said: “Some local fishermen have said that these guys should not have to pay a licence fee as they are bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars to the island’s economy.
“But it is not unusual in these type of events for boats to have to pay a fishing licence fee.”
Mr Jacobs said that attempts to create ‘no take zones’ or ‘fish quotas’ off the island were more likely to scare the international fishermen away from Bermuda than licensing fees: “If the only restriction is this licence fee then I don’t think anyone will mind.
“But if you start to treat them differently when they come to Bermuda and give them other restrictions on what they can and can not do while they are here that make no sense then the fishermen will go somewhere else and that won’t help anyone.
“But it does not look like we are going in that direction at the moment.”
The spokeswoman for Environmental Protection: “The Department acknowledges that foreign sport fishing vessels bring significant economic benefits to the island but has a mandate to ensure that fishing activities are conducted in a sustainable manner.”