Beef Island Case: Fisheries should be better protected

It is disheartening that an appeals court ruling has invalidated the fisheries protected area at Hans Creek, Beef Island, argues today’s editorial from the BVI’s Beacon.

The decision likely means that all of the territory’s 12,400 acres of fisheries protected area are no longer safe. This is a sad situation indeed, as the designation is one of only a few measures in place for protecting valuable marine ecosystems here.

Government should act immediately to determine what went wrong. Then it should explain the problem to the public and re-designate the areas as soon as possible, if necessary.

Meanwhile, officials should also review the status of other protected areas to determine whether they, too, might be vulnerable to legal challenges.

Unfortunately, the decision by the Eastern Caribbean Supreme Court of Appeal comes at a time when the territory’s environmental legislation is already sadly lacking. In May 2008, the Law Reform Commission submitted a report to Cabinet stating as much, and recommending a variety of new environmental legislation.

The cornerstone of the LRC recommendations is an environmental management bill that would establish a trust responsible for managing the territory’s natural resources. This bill has not made it to the House of Assembly, in spite of promises made by government in the 2008 and 2009 Speeches from the Throne, that subsequently were dropped in 2010 with no explanation.

Moreover, even the laws already on the books here are often ignored by the private sector and government alike.

The Beef Island court case, in fact, was largely about whether government had followed its own environmental laws. A High Court judge effectively ruled that it had not, because it granted planning approval for a development that could damage a fisheries protected area. The appeals court’s recent decision does not change the import of that first ruling.

Re-designating protected areas wherever necessary should be a top priority for government. The environment is perhaps the territory’s most important resource, and robust legislation and enforcement are needed to safeguard it.

For the original report go to http://www.bvibeacon.com/1/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=945:editorial-aug-25-2011

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