Fisheries Ministry signs Memorandum of Understanding with the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries
Saturday, March 7th, 2020
On Thursday, March 3rd, the Belize Government Press Office issued an official release declaring the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) signed between the Ministry of Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment, and Sustainable Development and the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries. The memorandum outlines the conditions and timelines for a successful phase-out and livelihood transition for gill net fishers. These measures to control the use of gill nets in Belize’s waters were approved by the Cabinet in December 2019 and were based on input from fishermen, citizens, economists, and marine experts.
As stated in the MoU, the conditions and timelines for the phase-out and livelihoods transition will culminate in a ban to be enforced throughout Belize’s maritime waters by March 31, 2022, at the latest, or earlier when the livelihoods transition of fishers is successfully attained. The MoU also set the framework for determining eligibility for the livelihood transition program, which includes gillnet fishers who were licensed in 2018 and presently meet legal requirements, as stated in Statutory Instrument 81 of 2019. Those requirements state that only Belizean citizens who have been residing in Belize for the past six months and sell their fisheries products only in Belize will be eligible for the program. A vetting committee to ensure all these requirements are met will be established as well.
The Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries was formed in August 2018, and they advocate for a complete ban on gillnet fishing. They’re a registered non-government organization representing Belize’s commercial fishermen, sports fishers, game fishers, and conservation organizations. The entities making up the Coalition currently comprises of the Belize Tourism Industry Association, Belize Game Fish Association, National Sports Fishing Association, Belize Federation of Fishers, Turneffe Atoll Trust, Yellowdog Conservation and Community Foundation, and MARAlliance. They raised BZ$1.5 million dollars to successfully fund the transition program. Their end goal is to ensure the sustainability of Belize’s fishing jobs and enhance Belize’s food security.
Oceana Belize also offered BZ$2.5 million dollars to aid with the transition program. Vice President of Ocean Belize, Janelle Chanona, spoke with News 5 Belize on Wednesday, March 4th about the increase in aid. “Belize fishers asking for a gillnet ban, and we have gotten to this point where there is two point five million dollars on the table because everyone has acknowledged that fishers do need to be supported in their transition,” commented Chanona.
Gillnets are notorious for indiscriminately trapping and killing marine life. This practice jeopardizes biodiversity, the fishing and tourism industries, and food security. They’re believed to be the gear of choice for illegal fishing, which continues to degrade the integrity of marine resources. Gillnetting can be destructive when lost or forgotten in the water because they continue to catch animals, a phenomenon known as “ghost fishing.” The caught animals die and attract scavengers, which are also caught in the same net, creating a cycle of death. The phase-out and livelihoods transition is a monumental step into reshaping the way Belizeans fish and paving the way for a more environmentally conscious fishing community.
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