BELIZE CITY, Mon. Nov. 9, 2020– Oceana, the global organization that helped Belizeans defend our barrier reef from oil exploration, scored again this week when, after over a decade of efforts by the organization to push for a ban on gill net use in our waters, a statutory instrument (SI) was signed to end the practice. SI No. 158 of 2020, which establishes the ban, was signed into law by caretaker Minister of Fisheries, Forestry, the Environment and Sustainable Development (MFFESD), Dr. Hon. Omar Figueroa, on November 5, 2020.
A joint release from the MFFESD and the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries and Oceana, says the SI prohibiting the use and possession of gill nets in our maritime waters comes after a two-year long process that involved a successful transition programme for fisherfolk who depended on this type of fishing for their livelihoods.
In 2018 a stakeholder taskforce was set up to examine gill net use with the aim to develop recommendations in 2019 to phase out the fishing method, which would then culminate with a ban on the practice. In 2020 an agreement was signed “between the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries, Oceana and the Government of Belize to assist gill net fishers to transition to alternative income generating opportunities and trade-in their gill nets.” Fisherfolk who bucked the proposed ban in the first instance, agreed after they were successfully engaged in 2020 in the buy-back process that is helping them transition to other forms of fishing, and/or livelihoods.
On the signing of the SI banning the use of gillnets, the Coalition commented that the measures “will ensure that productive fisheries remain available for future generations of fishers”. The Vice-President of Oceana in Belize, Ms. Janelle Chanona, said the ban “is a win for all Belizeans”, and NGO Senator, Hon. Osmany Salas, said the ban will “benefit current and future generations of Belizeans.”
One of the big problems with gillnets is that they kill many fish species that are not consumed, and they also ensnare bone fish, tarpon, and permits, three highly prized protected species that are the backbone of the fly fishing industry. It is expected that many of the highly skilled fisherfolk who used gill nets will transition to the tourist industry, when they are not engaged in legal fishing – trapping lobster, diving conch, and hand-line fishing.
The ban on gill nets will result in a major increase in the populations of the species prized by sports fishermen, so those engaged in the business will earn more.
Mr. Vincent Gillett, a former senior Fisheries officer for the Government of Belize, and former CEO of the Coastal Zone Management Authority and Institute, in a paper titled, “Case Study: Belize Fisheries and Tourism Markets — exploring linkages to enhance development, competitiveness and greater local participation”, reported that “Sport fishing was the first activity to attract the ‘specialty’ tourist to Belize (Huesner, 1996)”, and that “after five decades of developing the fishery, Belize is now one of the few countries in the world where fishing enthusiasts can perform the ‘Grand Slam’ – catching a Permit (Tachinotus falcatus), a Tarpon (Megalops atlanticus) and a Bonefish (Albula spp.) in one day.”
Gillett reported that in 2007 Belize generated US$28 million in gross revenue from sports fishing, of which US$15 million was paid out in annual salaries and wages. In 2008 sports fishing employed 1,864 persons, 100 of them independent fishing guides. In 2020 the 200 or so fisherfolk who used gill nets will turn them into goal nets, and many, most likely, will be obtaining licenses so that they can take tourists out sports fishing.