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Fishers call for an industry paradigm shift

HighlightsFishers call for an industry paradigm shift

Photo: Northern Fisherfolk Representatives signing Call to Action and Code of Conduct with BFF’s Director, Nigel Martinez

Twenty -three representatives of fishing communities and associations across Belize have signed a Code of Conduct and Call to Action crafted by the Belize Federation of Fishers to salvage the industry, and safeguard it for future generations

by Marco Lopez

BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Apr. 4, 2024

Fisherfolk from across Belize took a critical step this week. Twenty-three representatives of fishing communities and associations and members of the Belize Federation of Fishers (BFF) signed a Call to Action to address the critical state of the fisheries in Belize, and a Code of Conduct to guide fishers on Tuesday, April 2. 

The landmark documents were prepared and produced by the BFF, which received widespread support from its member associations across the length and breadth of Belize.

The ten-point Call to Action, the BFF notes, seeks to move the industry away from top-down management practices to inclusive governance. It calls for major funding to be allocated toward fisherfolk and fishing communities. They shared that bridging the gap between the status quo and perspectives of the fisheries authorities, and the development needs of the sector and supporting the fishing community is of primary importance.

The action points cover critical areas of improvement identified by the fisherfolk and corroborated with scientific data produced in a series of workshops held with the BFF, fisherfolk, and the representatives from the Belize Fisheries Project.   

The Call to Action points include: 1. Protection of the National Fishery from Industrialized and Foreign Exploitation; 2. Transparent and accountable Fish Management; 3. Restructuring of the Fisheries Licensing; 4. Replace or improve the Managed Access Program; 5. Redouble initiatives to reduce and expunge destructive fishing practices; 6. Commit to major improvement in monitoring and enforcement efforts; 7. Institutional reform inclusive of meaningful consultations prior to decision making; 8. Establishment of an Endowment Fund for Climate Resilience for Fisherfolks; 9. Development of an Apprenticeship Program for New Entrants into the National Fishery; and 10. Establishment of an Alternative Livelihood Revolving Fund.

Director of the BFF, Nigel Martinez, in an interview with Amandala, said the signing of these documents demonstrates the fishers’ commitment to promoting sustainable fisheries.

“As you are aware, we understand our fisheries to be in a crisis, and these guys are feeling it and seeing it; and from that perspective, they are making significant strides to demonstrate to the government, to demonstrate to the NGO community, that we are serious that we want to see a responsible fishing sector,” Martinez said.

The Call to Action demands government intervention to address the pressing industry issues and their impact on the livelihood of fisherfolk, and importantly to include fishers within governance and decision-making. The Code of Conduct, on the other hand, outlines clear guidelines to mandate that fisherfolk use sustainable fishing practices within marine environments.

The document outlines that BBF and fisherfolk commit to: 1. Respect Belize’s marine ecosystem; 2. Improving the voice of fishers in the governance of Fishery Resources; 3. Adopt sustainable Fishing Practices; 4. Prioritise Safety in Belizean Waters; 5. Engage and Collaborate for common good as a unified Fishing Community; 6. Implement transparent fishing practices; 7. Assure equity and social justice for fishers; 8. Protect Belize’s biodiversity; 9. Responsible market participation; and 10. Continuously learn.  

Technical Advisor of the BFF, George Myvett shared that these points have, to some extent, been implemented by Belize in principle.

“What we have in Belize now is that the code is coming from the fishers; it’s not coming from the United Nations, it’s coming from the fishers up,” Myvett shared.

He added, “We are saying to government, and we are saying to the partners who believe in sustainable development, this is the time to basically come to the table to meaningfully address the challenges and opportunities in the industry with the primary stakeholders, the fishing community, and the fishers of the nation.”

Nestor Lopez, representative of the Corozal Town fishers, told Amandala they are trying to get adequate support for fishermen by signing on to the documents.

“We are trying to work with our respective fishers and communities and we are trying to do things differently. We only hear on the news that fishermen are receiving help, and there is no kind of help,” Lopez said.

Fidel Chavez, of the San Estevan fishing community, also mentioned purported support going to fisherfolk, but not being seen or felt in their community.

Within the Call to Action, points 8 and 10 speak to the establishment of funds to support fishers and the fishing communities.

Martinez, in his comments, said that fisherfolk are one of the main stakeholders that are impacted by climate change. They shared that while other industries have received support from climate funding, the fishers continue to struggle with access to finances, given the unsustainable and exorbitant arrangements across all financial institutions currently.

“What we are saying to the government is that they need to set aside a 50-million-dollar Climate Resilience Fund for projects for fisherfolks because they are impacted significantly. It will also ensure food security for the country,” Director Martinez said.

Myvett commented, “We are saying that when you look at fishing and fishers, it’s also food security, nutritional security, it’s employment, it’s also a sector that is of prime importance to government; and we are saying that there has to be at least an equivalent response of at least 50 million dollars.

“When we look at lobster stocks, the science associated with the Summit Foundation and the BFF is basically saying we have less than three years to go if the status quo of exploitation continues before the lobster industry totally crashes. There will be need to make some arrangement for transition, what will fishermen do?”

The establishment of the Livelihood Revolving Fund would, according to the BFF, allow fishers to spend less time at sea. 

“We are saying that one of the priority areas of policy standpoint is diversification. Diversification in fishing as well as diversification outside of the industry. Within the industry, for example, there is a potential for deep-sea fishing, but fishers cannot compete with the loan schemes at the commercial banks, and certainly not with DFC,” Myvett commented.   

The BFF believes that this $30 million fund would accommodate the transition period and allow some time for the replenishment of lobster and conch stocks.

The widespread representation of fisherfolk communities signing on to these historic documents demonstrates that Belizean fisherfolk are speaking in one voice, BFF Director, Nigel Martinez said.

“It demonstrates our commitment, that we are unified, that we are speaking in one voice, that the members have the trust in the federation to lead, and we are going to continue to demonstrate that,” Martinez said.

“The BFF must focus on issues,” Myvett said. “The fishing industry is faced with major challenges, and our intervention is in relation to those challenges, and if you read through the documents you will see that it is all issue-level related to the national industry.”

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