BELIZE CITY, Tues. Mar. 16, 2021– The Belize Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries alongside Oceana has been waging a relentless campaign against the use of gillnets in the country for years leading up to the official ban instituted under Statutory Instrument 158 of 2020, which took effect on November 5, 2020. It seemed then that the battle was over and that all stakeholders could rest assured that their efforts had paid off, but the Coalition and Oceana have found that the illegal use of gillnets is still occurring.
The two entities released a joint press release on Tuesday in which they expressed their concern that the Minister of the Blue Economy, Hon. Andre Perez, might find himself in a position that forces him to alter the gillnet ban. The release begins by retracing the arduous efforts of Oceana and the Coalition to get the ban put in place, which included establishing a task force to examine the issues surrounding the use of nets and to gauge public support for the ban, developing recommendations to phase out gillnets, signing an agreement between both parties and the GOB to ban gillnets, and assisting fishers in the transition by providing alternate incomes and the disbursement of $1.5 million to gillnet fishers to date in a buy-back attempt to have them relinquish their illegal nets.
Despite these efforts, however, the Coalition and Oceana have not only learned of the continued use of illegal gillnets, but have been unsuccessful in their attempts to speak with Hon. Andre Perez, who has apparently made himself unavailable to them. This is outlined in their joint release, which makes the following statement:
“The Coalition for Sustainable Fishers and Oceana remain steadfast in their commitment to meeting with the Minister of the Blue Economy to discuss further steps to address illegal/unlicensed fishing activity. To date, notwithstanding several requests, Minister Andre Perez’s schedule has not allowed such a meeting. We were disappointed to learn this week that the Ministry of Blue Economy is involved in a spurious lawsuit filed by a third party with a pre-determined mediation initiated even prior to the court’s approval to proceed. We are concerned that the Ministry appears to be rapidly moved to substantially alter Statutory Instrument 158 of 2020, effectively overturning the gillnet ban.”
The release goes on to state that both parties have communicated their concerns to the Prime Minister, the Minister of Tourism and the Minister of the Blue Economy regarding the impacts that the reversal of the ban could have on tourism.
The Minister of the Blue Economy wasted no time in responding to the statements made by the Coalition and by Oceana in a press release of his own dated March 17, 2021. The release refutes the claims made by Oceana and the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries and states:
“Minister Perez finds it imperative to inform the nation and all concerned that the Belize Fishermen Cooperatives Association filed a lawsuit against the Minister of Blue Economy on the basis of a decision made by Omar Figueroa, former Minister of Fisheries. The lawsuit landed on the Minister’s desk just a few days after assuming office. In response, Minister Perez sought the legal support of the Attorney General’s Ministry. It was prudent to receive proper guidance from legal representatives before engaging in discussions with any interested party. This guidance was especially important as Minister Perez, upon assuming office, was not privy to all the details of the process that eventually led to the implementation of SI No. 158 of 2020. The Ministry of Blue Economy is open to having discussions with the Coalition for Sustainable Fisheries and Oceana Belize but expresses its disappointment in the hastily drawn conclusions and aspersions cast. The Ministry expects that both organizations will commit to working with the Ministry to put in place proper management, oversight, and programmes to ensure the social protection of fishers and long-term sustainability of Belize’s aquatic resources.”
Subsequent to the press release, the vice president of Oceana, Janelle Chanona, as well as the president of the Belize Game Fishing Association, Andrew Roe, spoke to the media to reaffirm their stance that the hazards of gillnet fishing would affect the country at large, and especially the fishermen who had opted to give up their nets in order to receive the $2 million payout. When asked for her assessment of the Minister’s follow-up press release, Chanona had this to say:
“We will only come back to assert that we have it documented the number of times since November that we have reached out, particularly on gillnets. Again, we are cognizant of everybody’s schedules, but it has been just as similarly pursued to have this conversation, because we know, while we have been in the trenches on this for some time, we know not everybody knows everything that’s been happening at every level. So, it’s been very important for us beyond documentation, beyond the agreements to have a sit down and to have that exchange of information so that we can move forward and identify the way forward. Because, as you said, those hiccups that have come up was not at the fault of the NGO community, was not the fault of the fishers.”