Fishermen Helping to Protect Fish

Belize’s system gets fishermen on side in helping to maintain the health of the ocean. photo credit: Tony Rath

Thanks to the Guardian for this story about Belize’s marine conservation efforts and how they can serve as a model for other countries.

Why tiny Belize is a world leader in protecting the ocean

Fish stocks are stable and reef health improving, in part thanks to Belize’s substantial ‘no-take’ zones. Now greater legislation is needed to secure progress

Across the turquoise water by the mangrove, forest ranger Allan Halliday spots a fishing skiff. “We’re going over to say hello,” he says, before abruptly changing the boat’s direction. But his real task is to check the couple on board have the license to fish in this part of the Port Honduras Marine Reserve, one of nine designated zones in Belize.

“We aren’t complaining but others do,” says Alonzo Reymundo, of the rules that now restrict Belize’s 3,000 commercial fishers to two geographic areas each. He and his wife Anselma have been fishing off southern Toledo for 30 years and their boat is laden with 50 or so pounds of shrimp – more than enough, he says, flashing his license. Today’s catch will be sold as bait and fetch around 330BZ$ (£135), he says.

But not all encounters are as friendly for the rangers from the Toledo Institute for Development and Environment (Tide), whose job includes enforcing the managed access (MA) programme that since 2016 has given traditional fishers the rights to secured grounds if they obtain licenses and report their catch. Illegal fishing has declined, says Halliday, but at night there are illicit incursions from Guatemala and high-speed chases around the reserve’s 500-square miles of pristine sea – a vast space to monitor for just four rangers alternating shifts at their station on Abalone Caye.

Covering all of Belize’s waters, the MA scheme is unique, says fisheries administrator Beverly Wade. “Belize is the only country in the world that has successfully divided all its territorial waters, including functional fishing waters. We direct all fishermen into two of nine areas to build an architecture from the ground up, where a constituent takes ownership of resources because their livelihood depends on it.”

The programme is just part of a groundbreaking approach to ocean protection that has won the tiny country in Central America a reputation as a world leader.

Most recently, in April, Belize expanded the replenishment or “no-take” zones in its marine protected areas from 4.5% to 11.6%, almost tripling zones where fishing is banned, to rebuild fish populations and protect marine habitats. “Nowadays it’s sexy to say ‘this is a no-take area’ somewhere miles out at sea,” says Wade, at her office in Belize City, “but our no-take zone of 16% is a giant achievement for a tiny country like Belize, because all our protected areas are right where people are interacting on a daily basis. That is the hardest thing to achieve.”

While in other Caribbean countries like Jamaica and the Bahamas, overfishing has depleted stocks of lobster and conch, such steps are helping ensure this does not happen in Belize, she says. MA has had faster results than anticipated, with an estimated 60% fall in illegal fishing, benefiting the two primary seafood exports. “The fact that our lobster and conch have remained stable is a direct indicator of the success of the combination of protected areas and managed access,” says Wade.

Other countries could learn from how Belize persuaded its fishers to give up open access to its waters, says Nicanor Requena, who spent almost a decade visiting remote fishing communities with the US-based Environmental Defence Fund (EDF). “At first they didn’t want to know, but we gained their trust by listening to them, and fishers’ traditional knowledge played a huge part in shaping the programme,” he says.

That message has even been echoed in a weekly radio drama about a fictional fishing village called Punta Fuego, with storylines about illegal fishing and characters tempted to make a quick Belizean dollar, with a phone-in to discuss the risks.

But it was two pilot programmes in the Port Honduras and Glover’s Reef reserves that proved to fishers the rights system would secure their livelihoods and win ecological payback: the recovery and preservation of Belize’s outstanding barrier reef – the largest in the northern hemisphere – on which nearly 200,000 people rely because of tourism and fishing. Other countries, including Australia and the Philippines, have been taking note and looking to emulate tiny Belize.

Read the entire article here.

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