Tuesday, June 25, 2024

The challenges sustainable fishers face in Belize

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A family of committed fishermen from Sarteneja Village and its surrounding areas in the northern Corozal District uses the waters around Middle Long Caye sustainably. They are the Lopez family, led by Ismael Lopez Sr. and Jr., Rodrigo Lopez, and Nestor Lopez. The family has been fishing in the region for over four decades now. Despite their excellent practices, Ismael, one of the head fishers, shared that pirates, the effects of climate change, and the possibility of expanding marine protected areas without proper consultations often threaten their fishing camp.
The Lopez crew’s sustainable practices have been instrumental in maintaining a healthy fish stock (lobsters, queen conch, and fish) in their fishing grounds. Ismael proudly stated, “We have not witnessed a decline in fish stock in our area as we diligently care for our fishing grounds.” However, they face challenges from illegal fishing and the threat of pirates.
Lopez shared a heartbreaking experience of evacuating their camp after a storm hit. Upon their return from the mainland, their camp had been burned down. They believed pirates were responsible for this tragedy, as they were trying to take control of their fishing grounds. Despite this setback, the family came together to rebuild their camp and continued to protect it for fisheries conservation and to secure their livelihood.
The Belize Federation of Fishers (BFF) has commended the Lopez family for their responsible fishing practices, setting a benchmark for the industry. The BFF has urged authorities to step up monitoring and enforcement against illegal fishing activities detrimental to honest fishermen. While the Belize Coast Guard is currently patrolling the area, additional resources are crucial to safeguard these vital fishing grounds. The Belize Fisheries Department’s stance on the matter and their plans to expand marine protected areas in collaboration with the fishing community are yet to be known.
The family acknowledges that times are changing, and climate change has affected their environment. They believe that addressing this issue may be challenging, but they ask the authorities to include them in ongoing conversations to increase the marine protected areas. They are concerned that the expansion of marine protected areas is happening without consulting the fishermen, and they want to be part of the discussions to manage marine resources better.
The fishing industry in Belize is a significant enterprise, generating millions of dollars in revenue. Belize’s primary export products include the spiny lobster and queen conch. According to reports from the Belize Fisheries Department (BFF), the gross export value of marine products can exceed BZ$100 million in any given year. Therefore, it is essential to protect this industry to benefit many Belizean fisherfolk and the tourism industry.
Despite the considerable revenue generated by the fishing industry, many fishermen across the country still struggle to make significant catches. However, the Lopez family at Middle Long Caye has protected the fisheries stock they have worked for decades, facing the odds and ensuring its survival.

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