Fisheries Department Consultation in San Pedro
Thursday, May 28th, 2015
The Nature Conservancy, in collaboration with the Belize Fisheries Department, has been conducting a series of consultations across the country. A group of consultants visited San Pedro on Wednesday, May 20th for the first consultation for the National Replenishment Zone Expansion project in Belize. The sole purpose was to engage with fisheries stakeholders as they work to meet a national goal of having 10% of Belize’s territorial waters to be within replenishment zones. Replenishment zones are essentially areas where no fishing is allowed. It acts as a refuge for the marine species population, while helping the country to adapt to climate change.
The consultations are aimed at gathering input from stakeholders, as well as provide a meaningful dialogue that will benefit local fisher folk. Marine Specialist, Julie Robinson was the main consultant tasked with the technical aspect of the consultations. In an interview with The San Pedro Sun, Robinson explained that at the moment they are looking at an expansion that only encompasses open sea or deep sea habitats. “Is not near shore or areas that are going to affect the majority of Belize’s commercial fishermen, it’s really about trying to capture the deep sea habitat because this is the least represented habitat within the entire marine protected area networks of the country,” said Robinson. “Presently, about 1.5% of the open sea is protected. We are starting here in the north looking at the areas, particularly Bacalar Chico and the reef, to see which areas the expansion can take place at. We have done preliminary analysis, where we took into consideration a number of different biophysical features like where are the healthiest reefs, the most vulnerable reefs and also the areas that would have the highest cost. The project is not about creating new marine protected areas, but the expansion of existing ones, so all these new expansions will be adjacent to existing Marine Protected Areas (MPA).”
One of the highlights of the consultation was the conflict from stakeholders on the expansion of the existing MPAs. “The stakeholders are concerned that if the actual MPAs are expanded, then where would they go fishing? We totally understand that. What they have suggested is that instead of expanding the areas, the best option is to apply a limitation on the size of fish products. We have developed a tool that will help us to go through these consultations to make the changes and at the same time ensure that we are still reaching our goal to capture ten percent of the open sea habitat within replenishment zones,” elaborated Robinson.
Some of the main groups present at the consultation were the Tour Guide Association and the Sports Fishing Association since these groups are actively fishing in those deep sea areas. “The information we received is that the people that fish in those open sea areas are primarily the tour guides and not the commercial fishers. We didn’t want to open this up to anybody to come in if it’s an area they are not actively fishing or have no interest in. So, we really wanted to capture those people that know and use those areas, thus the reason why we targeted those groups in particular,” said Robinson.
In the coming weeks, similar consultations will be held along all coastal communities in Belize.
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