Saturday, December 11, 2010

Belize Totally Bans Bottom Trawling!


Posted: 10/12/2010 - 09:49 AM
Author: Adele Ramos - 

Belize has joined Venezuela and the Pacific island nation of Palau to be the third country in the world to impose a complete ban of bottom-trawling in the country.
Bottom trawling, which involves boats indiscriminately dragging nets across the sea floor, has been used in Belize for decades to catch shrimp; however, the practice is very destructive to a wide array of marine life that tend to also get trapped in the process, sometimes at very young stages in their life cycle. Trawling, where it is done, is said to be one of the culprits of fisheries decline.
At what he described as a historic and momentous occasion, Minister of Agriculture and Fisheries Rene Montero signed the statutory instrument on the afternoon of Wednesday, December 8, 2010, and he said at the press conference right after the signing that the legislation will take effect as soon as it is published in the Government Gazette.
Minister of Tourism Manuel Heredia, a commercial fisherman for three decades, said he was fully behind the move and presented congratulatory words at the signing.
Heredia noted that originally, there were as many as 12 trawlers operating in Belize, but now there are only 2 vessels, both Belizean-owned and operated, left in the country. People in Southern Belize used to complain that by-catch from the trawlers was washing up on the picturesque beaches in Sittee and Placencia, and making a stink for the tourism industry, he remarked.
Those present at today’s signing joined in a chorus of commendations for those who saw the initiative through, noting that both the fisheries and tourism industries will benefit.
Ovel Leonardo, chairman of Northern Fishermen Cooperative Society Limited, the only entity which had been trawling in Belize of late, noted that their two trawlers were purchased decades ago and they had an $800,000 balance on their loan for the trawlers, which they had about 20 years to repay.
As a form of compensation for the fishermen, Oceana is purchasing those two trawlers and the transaction is nearing completion, Leonardo indicated.
He also explained to Amandala that when the cooperative bought the trawlers years ago, it was under the political administration of the United Democratic Party (UDP) on the promise that there would be no more joint ventures with foreign entities. It did not quite work out that way, Leonardo noted.
Now, in 2010, he said, the same government is saying it will ban it – and Leonardo today accepted that stance of the government.
He also told Amandala that they are trying to work in the best interest of Belize, the fishermen and the industry. The trawlers produced 40,000 tons of marine shrimp in 2009, and that was the last time the trawlers were producing, he indicated.
Since 2010 began, they have not been operating due to costly repairs that were needed on the vessels, but the intent—before the ban, of course—was to return the vessels to sea, Leonardo told Amandala.
What will the fishermen’s cooperative do to bridge the income gap that will emerge due to the abolition of bottom trawling in Belize? The cooperative chairman told us that they are discussing alternatives to bring in income – one of which is fish farming.
Witnessing the signing of the statutory instrument was a high-level team of Oceana executives, who were central in lobbying the Government of Belize to impose the ban, including Andy Sharpless, CEO of Oceana International; Ted Danson, a member of the Oceana Board; and Kristian Parker, chairman of Oceana International and chairman of Oak Foundation, as well as Oceana director Cesar Gaviria, former president of Colombia and former Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS).
“This is not really about saving fish; it is about saving fishermen; it’s about creating jobs, because if you destroy your reef, you would end up losing your tourism; you would end up losing your ability for fishermen to have their children fish and their children’s children fish,” said Danson, a well-known American actor.
Danson added that this is a huge step Belize is taking for itself as well as the world, because the Belize Barrier Reef ends up feeding a vast portion of the western world.
Parker, who described shrimp trawling as a very destructive practice, explained that, “For every one pound of shrimp you catch, five pounds of reef fish are thrown overboard—dead.”
He commended the leadership decision by the Barrow administration as “extremely forward thinking” and “important” for the future of Belize.
The measure, said Parker, is assuring future jobs of two important industries in Belize: tourism and fisheries, while sending a positive signal to UNESCO—which has flagged the dangers to which the Belize Barrier Reef is exposed as it faces the risk of being de-listed as a World Heritage Site—to say, “Yes, Belize is going in the right direction.”
An Oceana statement released today says: “This move is critical because it comes at a time when UNESCO is asking the Government to report on what corrective measures it has taken to remove the existing threats to the Belize Barrier Reef System.”
Gaviria said that the complete ban of trawling in Belizean territorial waters will protect the reef, as it is really risky to have trawlers moving around the barrier reef.
“There are many things to do here – this is not the only one; but it’s a very, very important step and it will have an international echo,” he added.
According to Oceana, “Large areas in the US, Indonesia, Philippines and other Pacific islands are closed to trawling, though not the entire country.”
Belize Tourism Minister Manuel Heredia noted that it has been a year since the effort began.
Oceana Vice President in Belize, Audrey Matura-Shepherd, thanked the Opposition People’s United Party (PUP) for also supporting the legislation and its commitment to not make this a political issue. She also thanked the fishermen who have agreed that the ban is a good move for everyone involved.
Referring to a study that sampled the trawler by-catch in Belize, Matura-Shepherd said that several edible fish species were found, including snapper, grunt and thread herring: “They never grew up so that they can reach your plate,” she added.
Minister Montero answered our questions on whether the surveillance and enforcement efforts will have enough teeth to ensure that indeed, this threat to Belize’s marine ecosystem is truly put to its watery grave.
He said that the area targeted for bottom trawling was the southern waters of Belize. He informed that yesterday a statutory instrument was signed to implement a pilot program for catch shares at Glovers Reef Marine Reserve and Port Honduras Marine Reserve, which would invoke even further controls against the exploitation of fisheries in southern Belize.
This, said Montero, will assist in enforcing marine laws and ensure that fishermen are part and parcel of the enforcement, as they would be respected as custodians in these two areas, because it will be part of their livelihoods that they will be protecting.
As to whether Government would be boosting official surveillance efforts, the minister said that there are in existence co-management licenses for Toledo Institute of Development and Environment (TIDE), Southern Environmental Association (SEA) and other organizations who work with Government and law enforcement authorities, including the Coast Guard, to enforce fisheries laws.
“All are responsible for enforcing the laws in Belize,” added Montero.
He also said that he would like to see funds in the ministry’s budget be increased for more patrols and enforcement.
Belize, said Montero, is also working with her Central American neighbors to harmonize laws that govern marine resources.
Matura-Shepherd noted that with the new law in place, a new penalty would also be instituted that would serve as a deterrent. The draft statutory instrument distributed at the press conference specified $2,000 or six months in prison or both for a person found guilty of flouting the law; but the consequences don’t stop there: The law also gives the government the power to seize the violator’s vessel.
Matura-Shepherd also said that fishermen would additionally report any sightings of trawlers, because they will know that they should not be operating in Belizean waters. The fishermen will report lawbreakers, said Matura-Shepherd, because they are scraping and killing their fishing grounds.
Minister Heredia thinks: “It is easy, easy to enforce.”

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