Fisheries Department to implement Managed Access Program
Saturday, December 26th, 2015
Belize’s marine resources are some of the country’s best assets, but they have faced several challenges over the years. An income-producing activity that uses marine resources is fishing, and while many Belizean fishermen practice sustainable fishing methods, there are still concerns regarding the practice. As such, the Belize Fisheries Department has taken on the Fishing Managed Access Program which aims at ending open access to resources across Belize’s marine ecosystems by licensed commercial fishermen. Open access fishing allows licensed fishermen to harvest marine species (that are not protected by law) unrestrictedly, and this has resulted in overfishing, causing populations of certain species to decline over the years.
According to Fisheries Administrator, Beverly Wade, this program needs to be implemented in order to safeguard marine resources for the future. She explained that Cabinet had previously scheduled the Managed Access Program to begin in June of 2016, but they have now pushed the date for a soft start in January of 2016. This was done to allow the Fisheries Department a trial and error period for the program in order to have all institutional requirements for proper implementation in June of 2016. “In Belize, people fish according to where their grandfather fished. We have started to see some safety and piracy issues when it comes to fishing. Hence the reason why we are moving to roll out the program,” explained Wade.
During the five-month soft start, the Fisheries Department will simply be educating fishermen and not lawfully enforcing the program. Fishermen will not be prosecuted if they break the program’s guidelines and rules, but they will be reprimanded. During this period, fishermen are encouraged to provide feedback to the Department on how to better the Managed Access Program. Wade explained that this program isn’t meant to negatively affect fishermen but to promote sustainable fishing practices which will positively benefit them in the long run.
The Managed Access Program is not a new concept, as it had been pilot tested in Glovers Reef and Port Honduras for the past two years. Wade explained that in the two year pilot program they observed great improvement to the marine population over the year, and have even reduced illegal fishing through increased patrols. The ultimate role of the managed access program is to eliminate illegal fishing, and after its successful trial at Glovers Reef and Port Honduras, the Department is ready to advance with a nationwide implementation.
As part of the program, Fisheries Department will form nine Community Managed Access Committees to ensure that the proper fishing regulations are enforced in the different areas. The committees will be made up of local fishermen of the area, personnel from the Fisheries Department and members of other partner organizations. As such, the program has seen Belize’s 15 major fishing communities divided into nine managed access areas, each with its own committee.
The licensed fishermen will play an integral role in their area in reporting illegal activities and self-policing. Currently there are under 3,000 licensed commercial fishermen in Belize.
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