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Lionfish are not Belize’s most dangerous invasive species – unchecked NGO’s are!

LettersLionfish are not Belize’s most dangerous invasive species - unchecked NGO’s are!

Dear Editor,

The article on a “national” workshop for the new fisheries legislation is creating significant anger in the Stann Creek fishing communities of Dangriga and Hopkins.

On the 4th September a large group of fisherfolk attended the Hopkins (inc. Dangriga) workshop at Sandy Beach. While the meeting was “spirited,” so were previous workshops at other venues according to Mr. Chris Hedley, lead consultant and attorney.

During the meeting Mr. Hedley made reference to an upcoming national workshop tentatively scheduled around September 16. Those present, to a man, have no recollection of September 12 being given as the date, or the Northern Cooperatives building as the venue by Mr. Hedley, Mr. Gongora and Mr. Rodney, Fisheries Officers, or that NGO representative, Julio Maaz from WCS, would be hosting the event.

A direct result of this “oversight” was the absence of the vast majority of those who attended the Hopkins (inc. Dangriga) workshop; these fisherfolk were knowingly denied their rightful participation in the “national” workshop.

At the same Hopkins (inc. Dangriga) workshop, the issue of inadequate enforcement was raised. The response was that grants are being pursued to assist enforcement efforts. Fishermen were surprised to learn of the imminent deployment of unmanned drones for surveillance of fishing areas – doubly surprised to learn that Mr. Rodney, Fisheries Officer, and Mr. Maaz, WCS, were featured in Amandala the very next day.

Why they did not inform the attendees of this valuable development at the Wednesday, September 4 meeting, or inform those present of the “national” workshop is the cause of much concern in the Stann Creek District.

We believe there is a policy of selective exemption in its dealings with Stann Creek District; the two advisory committees for SWCMR and GRMPA have “rubber stamped” the agenda promoted by Fisheries and NGO partners, and recommendations from fisherfolk representatives over the last two years to both committees have been ignored. I have been present at many of those meetings and observed this first hand.

The recent CZMAI Plan 2013 recommends that traditional rights of access be replaced with “usufruct” rights of access; as chair of the South Water Caye Advisory Committee and Director of CZMAI, Mr. Colin Gillett was asked at the August 15 meeting of the SWCAC why his agency was recommending this, and why had he not responded to enquiries from Stann Creek regarding the CZMAI plan. His response was that the questions were all passed to Fisheries, as they had no relevance under the CZMAI plan – that’s right, the director of the agency recommending substantial restructuring of fisherfolk traditional practices is passing the buck to the Fisheries Dept – they have not responded yet, either.

Attached to the CZMAI Plan 2013 is the National Protected Area System Plan Rationalization Annex. Under this plan, selected NGOs will become 3rd-party co-managers of the national protected areas themselves, with construction, concession and revenue generation accruing to them, NOT the traditional users.

Wildtracks, an NGO and author of the NPASP-RA, gets substantial benefit from the realignment, gaining sole control of the northern terrestrial corridor and significant benefits through its secretary position in S.A.C.D.; WCS gets co-management of the Central and Atoll Zone, while SEA benefits from co-management of South Water Caye Marine Reserve.

Thankfully, TIDE retains its excellent stewardship of PHMR.

The realignment gives co-management rights over Stann Creek District’s two marine reserve areas to 3rd parties who have no stakeholding within the affected communities – SEA’s recent emergence notwithstanding.

A national workshop on fisheries issues should be exactly that, an opportunity for ALL to participate. This latest iteration of the selective exemption policy further undermines fisherfolk communities’ confidence in the motives of its own Fisheries Dept and their NGO partners, motives clearly outlined in the CZMAI plan and its accompanying NPASP-RA.

Science is often cited as the reasoning behind much of these recommended changes; sadly, much of the data is irrelevant, as it frequently contradicts known facts; a 10-year lobster study by the Fisheries Dept released last August counted 200 lobsters a year for ten years; another asserts the data gathered is insufficient and forms no basis for catch shares or quota restrictions – fish populations are gathered by divers sitting on the bottom counting fish.

Another study trumpets the revelation that more fish are observed where fishermen are fishing, while another notes no change in species presence inside or outside protected areas despite 10 years of restrictions and NGO management.

These published scientific reports prove that while there is a clear and present need to improve fisheries management in Belize, manipulation of scientific facts creates science fiction.

For many years the international NGO community has found safe haven in Belize; even a cursory check of public records illustrates the incompetence of many NGO’s, with no record keeping, and avoidance of Belizean company laws rampant.

I submit that lionfish are not Belize’s most dangerous invasive species – unchecked NGO’s are!

Matthew James, Dangriga Town (inc. Hopkins), Stann Creek

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