A WCS United Nations Ocean Conference Blog

Collaborating for Sustainable Fisheries in Belize

These lobster fishermen are among the 3,000 registered fishers in Belize. Photo ©WCS Belize.

By Nicole Auil Gomez
June 9, 2017

I’m excited to be in New York this week at the United Nations Ocean Conference. Entering the UN building for the first time, I encounter wonderful artwork depicting sea creatures, including a humpback whale fluke made from garbage washed up from the sea. Among the vendors promoting sustainable foods and products is a chocolate producer who uses Belize’s cocoa beans.

There’s more art work to see, but I was there to join a panel of fellow Belizeans at a side event focused on sustainable small-scale fisheries. Partners for this event include international and local NGOs, along with two local fishing organizations, the Rio Grande Fishermen Cooperative and the Punta Negra Village. I was excited to see that interest was high for our discussion, the small room standing-room-only.

Belize has set a modest goal that 10 percent of its territorial waters be reserved as no-take or “replenishment” zones, meaning all methods of fishing and extraction are prohibited. Photo ©WCS Belize.

The keynote address was given by our Minister of Fisheries, Forestry, Environment, Sustainable Development & Climate Change, Hon. Dr. Omar Figueroa. He reviewed Belize’s accomplishments in sustainable development and the role of fisheries in achieving the SDGs. The country’s Voluntary Commitments were noted, and the partnership among public, private and civil society groups.

The strength of the event was certainly the contribution of not one, but two local fishers who were a part of the delegation. Belize has the only delegation that includes fisherfolk. They described their experiences and the importance of the fishing to the lives of coastal communities. The presentations were personal and uplifting, with Paula Williams from the Punta Negra Village describing her experience fishing and cooking for a living.

“The link between NGOs and local stakeholders is key to successful management.”

Moderating a panel discussion on fisheries management in achieving sustainable development goals, Belize Fisheries Administrator Beverly Wad focused on the need for partnerships to achieve successful outcomes. Fisherman Carlos Ramirez, a former classmate of Paula’s who works with several of the NGOs represented on the panel, discussed growing up on a small island that eventually became part of a marine reserve.

Members of the Belize delegation to the UN Ocean Conference. Photo by Imani Fairweather-Morrison/Oak Foundation.

Celia Mahung of the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (TIDE) spoke on the co-management role local NGOs like TIDE are playing in safeguarding the marine resources in geographically defined spaces, and their strong relationships with local fishers and other users of these spaces. The link between these NGOs and local stakeholders is key to successful management.

Julie Robinson from TNC introduced some of the market-based initiatives being undertaken with fishing co-operatives and associations. This includes leveraging financing, getting better prices for products, value adding of fisheries resources, and working to diversify livelihood options. The goal is to gain the best management and increase income.

That left me and Environmental Defense Fund representative Larry Epstein. Larry focused on the role of science in management and policy decisions I looked at innovations, governance, and technology that are being used (or will soon be deployed) to assist in fisheries management and monitoring or to combat illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing.

The lion fish is a heavily fished invasive species in Belize’s waters. Photo ©WCS Belize.

Belize has several systems in place to ensure transparent, fair, and accountable access to fisheries resources in the country. This starts with the formal fishing licensing system, which now includes input from Managed Access Committees of their peers. For 2017, we have 2200 fishers licensed from 115 communities using 623 vessels, supporting 4725 dependents.

“Belize has several systems in place to ensure transparent, fair, and accountable access to fisheries resources in the country.”

To ensure compliance of fishing regulations, both within and outside of MPAs, the Fisheries Department staff and NGO ranger staff use tools such as the Spatial Monitoring and Reporting Tool (SMART), which stores information on who is accessing the areas and for what purposes (by scanning licenses), along with management decisions that rangers take. Fishers also use logbooks to record fish catch.

Daybreak with Osprey (top left) and red mangrove in Middle Caye, Belize. Photo ©AlexTewfik/WCS Belize.

We foresee this system becoming digital via use of a telephone app. We will be deploying a vessel monitoring system to identify areas of use and provide a safety mechanism for those at sea. Combining this with the Ourfish App, used by consumers to record the fish they purchase wholesale, adds another layer of data to report to the Fisheries Department.

The intention is to have information from the point of extraction of the fisheries resources to the point of exportation — a great leap forward in ensuring long-term sustainable fishing in Belize. The discussion ended with a few questions and side discussion. It was a quick event that allowed us to collectively showcase our successes in Belize. Now we just need to fulfill our goals through continued dialogue and collaboration.

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Nicole Auil Gomez is Belize Country Director at WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society).

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