30 May 2010 - By Chris Harris. Scientists don’t always get good
press; they are sometimes ignored, sometimes misunderstood, even sneered
at as “ just boffins, egg heads,” etc.
But the time is coming fast when we
have to start getting serious and listening to what we are being told.
And more importantly, acting on it. To fail to listen would be a failure
of our personal responsibilities as members of the world community, and
for our politicians to fail to act would be a dereliction of their
The politicians have a
responsibility to act on the best possible advice they get from those
who study, measure, monitor, record and report what happens around us.
It is not, however, the job of
scientists to tell us or our government what to do, or what actions to
take, or policies to follow. The assessment of scientific reports is the
job of our government.
However, now and again a subject
arises where even the layman, be he a farmer, an office worker, a
policeman, or a hotel receptionist, can make judgments for him or
herself. The sustainability of our marine environment and the fish we
eat is one such subject.
You do not have to hold a PhD or be a
high flying researcher in a university to read the writing on this
particular wall. Just listen to what is being said.
“The world faces the nightmare
possibility of fishless oceans by 2050 unless fishing fleets are slashed
and stocks allowed to recover.
“If the various estimates we
have received... come true, then we are in the situation where 40 years
down the line we, effectively, are out of fish.
“Virtually all fisheries risk
running out of commercially viable catches by 2050.”
This is from Pavan Sukhdev,
head of the United Nations Environmental program’s green initiative. OK,
Perhaps he exaggerates, or is just plain wrong.
“All the evidence available
suggests that the most valuable exploitable stocks in Belize are fully
fished or overfished. In thirty years we will not be eating marine fish
in Belize if we keep on our present path.”
So who said this? Dr. Les Kauffman,
professor of biology at Boston University after his latest research
project report here in Belize.
OK, perhaps he, too, is mistaken, or
So maybe you would like to hear what
Boris Worm wrote in Science volume 314 in 2006? “If the
current rate of fishery decline continues, virtually all the world’s
fisheries will collapse within the next 50 years.”
So how many more quotes would you
like before the awful truth dawns? These guys know what they are talking
about. THEY ARE RIGHT!
So what do we do? Well, first up, we
stop this ridiculous proposal to export our fish to Jamaica. Listen to
the scientists’ opinion of that.
“I strongly feel that the
Jamaican commercialization of Belize’s fisheries is a very bad move and,
though Belize will profit economically in the short run, it will do so
at a severe cost to the long-term viability of your coastal marine
“We can learn from other
countries’ mistakes, with Jamaica being our foremost example. Though
creating this export market will have short-term economic benefits for a
country that certainly needs additional sources of income, increasing
demand on Belize’s already stressed fisheries isn’t making money, but
effectively borrowing against your future at a potentially very high
interest rate.”(Dr. Burton Shank, principal investigator, Belize
MMAS Ecological Monitoring program)
“All the processing plant will
do is consolidate, diminish, and wrest control of the fishery and
transfer it into the hands of rapacious foreigners from a country that
is actually the laughing stock of the world for the way that it has
overfished its own waters.” (Dr. Les Kaufman, professor of biology,
Boston University marine program)
Is that not clear enough for us? The
writing is well and truly on the wall. All we have to do is read it. We
need a radical re-focus on our marine treasure. If we want to, it can
yet be saved. The scientists have told us how this can be done, but do
we have the will to stop illegal coastal and offshore development, reduce river pollution and sedimentation?
So where now for our Belizean
fishermen? Clearly they must continue to catch fish - that is their
livelihood. Clearly, they must be allowed to sell their catch wherever
they choose, subject to export licenses of course.
However catches ARE declining, and
if the fishermen are to maintain their standard of living, then the
value of their catch must rise. There is a way to do this which even the
Jamaicans have discovered. Added value. For example, instead of selling
raw lobster meat, we should be processing that meat into lobster
fritters, lobster soup, etc. Fish can be processed into fish fingers,
breaded fillets, etc., and will find a ready market.
Look at the shining example of Marie
Sharp. They sell hot peppers all over the country, and export them too,
but not hot peppers at $2 per pound. They sell pepper sauce at $3 a
bottle. But that sauce bottle has about fifteen cents worth of peppers
in it. So that pound of peppers makes a whole case of pepper sauce which
sells for $36 or more. That’s what added value is all about.
We need to stop thinking about
selling raw materials, but instead selling finished products just like
Marie Sharp does. This not only gives us more value for our fish, but
creates genuine jobs as well. All this sudden interest in our fish by
the Jamaicans suggests that processed food products would find a ready
market back home in Kingston. Or perhaps they just want to buy fish
cheap from us so they can process it into breaded fillets, etc., in
Jamaican factories themselves?
The ever-present poaching of our
fish by Guatemalans and Hondurans in our coastal waters, and the visit
of the Jamaicans to PG (a nice quiet corner of Belize far away from any
prying eyes) is all evidence of a growing world shortage of food. The
scientists have warned us of this, too!
Belize no longer has an infinite
supply of raw materials. We used to have forests of prime timber, and
allowed other countries (yes, including my own mother country) to take
it away. Let’s not make the same mistake with our fish and other marine
Just remember one thing. No more sea
fish within the lifetime of your children.
South Coast Citizens for Sustainable