When someone yells,“Let’s celebrate!” the occasion is typically personal: a birthday, an anniversary, or a graduation — or maybe a promotion or the birth of a child. But sometimes we celebrate not an individual achievement, but rather a victory for the larger society. Such is the case with a new legislation signed into law this past January.
The conservation community in Belize recently celebrated ratification of the Fisheries Resources Act. If you’re not part of the country’s conservation community, if you’re not a conscientious fisher, if you don’t care about whether both locals and foreigners pillage and their vessels damage our marine resources, if you elect not to appreciate how important it is to safeguard Belize Barrier Reef Reserve System (a UNESCO-designated World Heritage Site that includes WCS Glover’s Reef Research Station), then you may not comprehend what the big fuss is about.
The new law took close to a decade to succeed — from conception, to consultations, drafting, and passage through the House of Representatives and Senate. That may seem surprising when you consider that more than 15,000 Belizeans benefit directly or indirectly from consumption of fish, conch, and lobster. The seafood industry grosses millions in export earnings each year and tourism is the number one foreign exchange income earner for this country.
“The new legislation incorporates mechanisms to counter overfishing via inclusive management by all stakeholders established through an Advisory Body.”
The last time Belize amended legislation that governed fisheries and how we manage our marine resources was in the late 1980s — 1989 to be exact. Even someone who doesn’t work in the environment or conservation fields would agree that a lot has changed within fisheries since 1989.
First, there are far more fishers using the same sea to fish, which means there is a higher chance of overfishing. Recent conch research by WCS Marine Scientist Alex Tewfik confirms this. Second, there are far more international vessels — legal and illegal — that enter Belizean maritime waters, thus creating an environment for more destruction of our reef (part of the Mesoamerica Barrier Reef System).
The Fisheries Resources Bill addresses overfishing and illegal activities, outlining measures to counter illegal activities by local and international vessels and individuals. One of the most consistent concerns from fishers was the lack of appropriate fines, especially for foreign individuals and vessels that do not adhere to the rules and regulations. The new Act has stiffer fines and penalties aimed at reducing illegal fishing, as well as measures to facilitate surveillance and enforcement.
For example, Section 69, Subsection (1) of the Act states, “No person shall destroy, throw overboard, conceal or abandon any fish, fish product, fishing gear, net or other fish appliance … or any other thing with intent to avoid seizure or the detection of an offence against this Act”.
As it relates to a foreign vessel, Subsection (2a) states that violators will be fined not less than five thousand dollars nor more than one hundred and fifty thousand dollars. Subsection (2b) holds that owners of local vessels will be fined not less than two thousand dollars nor more than one hundred thousand dollars, face imprisonment to a term not less than six months nor more than two years, or be subject to both fine and imprisonment.
The new legislation incorporates mechanisms to counter overfishing via inclusive management by all stakeholders established through an Advisory Body. WCS’s Sustainable Fisheries Coordinator, Julio Maaz, who has been an integral part of the Task Force for the new legislation, says that if he were to name just one single thing that makes the new legislation worth celebrating, it would be that fisheries management now requires meaningful consultation with all stakeholders.
“Let’s tip our champagne glasses to safe-guarding thousands of jobs for fishers; having seafood on the tables for tens of thousands of Belizeans and visitors; a healthy Belize economy; and the rebirth of sustainable fisheries.”
“This would ensure a more equitable, fair, and sustainable distribution of our marine resources,” Maaz says; while the Fisheries Administrator, Beverly Wade, calls the new Act “innovative” because it allows for input from a wide cross-section of organizations and individuals who will advise the Minister on best practices for the sector.
Let’s tip our champagne glasses to protection and inclusive management of our marine resources and the Belize Barrier Reef System; safe-guarding of thousands of jobs for fishers; having seafood on the tables for tens of thousands of Belizeans and visitors; a healthy Belize economy; and the rebirth of sustainable fisheries. Let’s celebrate the new Fisheries Resources Act!