BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Nov. 12, 2020– On November 5, 2020, the caretaker Minister of Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment and Sustainable Development (MFFESD), Hon. Omar Figueroa, signed Statutory Instrument No. 158 of 2020, placing a ban on the use of gillnets in our waters. The lobby to ban gillnets had been gaining strength for over a decade, and everyone knew the day was on the horizon when that piece of fishing gear would be prohibited, but it was a surprise when it was announced last week, just a few days before the general election.
One group that was surprised by the announcement is the Belize Fishermen Cooperative Association (BFCA). Sydney Fuller, the Executive Director of BFCA, told 7News that the majority of the group’s 2,000 members were left out of the conversation, that the decision is a disaster for them, and that they are going to push for the law to be rescinded.
Oceana, the organization that spearheaded the gillnet ban, and the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries, raised $2 million to help fisher folk who agreed to give up the equipment that’s used for gill net fishing and to transition to using other types of fishing gear or to other livelihoods.
The day after Fuller announced that BFCA would be challenging the ban, Oceana’s Vice-President in Belize, Janelle Chanona, and Andrew Roe, the Chairperson of the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries, held a virtual press conference to respond to the BFCA.
Chanona explained that the fisher folk who agreed to the ban had signed a contract and fully understood and accepted the reasons why the ban was in their best interest. She said that those who agreed to give up their gill nets will begin receiving funds from the transition program shortly, and they will continue getting assistance for another 23 months.
Roe said that in their discussions with fisher folk who were licensed to use gill nets, almost all of them said that gill nets are only one of the pieces of equipment they use, so a ban would not wipe out all their earnings. Roe said the fisher folk will use the funds to help them transition to other types of fishing, and a few of them said they wanted to go into farming.