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#460732 - 03/22/13 08:50 AM Are Belize's Waters Overfished?
Marty Offline
Easter is coming, so all you Good Friday fish finders are probably on the lookout for that choice snapper, kingfish or barrow. But this year, it's probably going to be even more expensive than last, and, yes, that's partly because of easter-time price gouging, but also because supply is getting scarcer, which pushes prices upwards.

The inconvenient truth that many fish-lovers don't want to face is that Belize's waters - though vast and bountiful - are increasingly overfished - and those red snappers you grew up eating? Well, someday, your kids may have to choose Tilapia instead! Janelle Chanona examines this mounting problem in a special report she put together for reef week.

Janelle Chanona Reporting

Fishing has always figured prominently in Belizean cultures. Throughout local history, several coastal communities have directly depended on fishing as the primary source of income. Traditional commercial fishing in Belize is categorized as a 'cottage' industry: single fishermen going out in their boats. Today, fishing is one of Belize's largest employers; approximately three thousand commercially licensed fishers are trolling Belizean waters.

Belizean fishers have extracted thousands of tonnes of lobster, conch and fin fish from our territorial waters. And everyone agrees, the numbers have taken a toll.

Hon. Lisel Alamilla - Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development
"The greatest challenge that we face is overfishing in our seas. This is really compounded is that we have encroachment from the Mexicans in the north and the Guatemalans and the Hondurans down South. And that is very difficult to overcome."

To overcome some of the challenges in the fishing industry, Belize implemented seasons, quotas and size limits; banned bottom trawling; restricted the use of gill nets, spear guns, and fish traps; and stepped up enforcement efforts to protect marine products. But the strategy is not enough to replenish stocks. Today fishermen have to race to find favourites and customers have to dig deep to buy fish.

Dr. Melanie McField - Director, Healthy Reefs for Healthy People
"We already know that prices are higher than they used to be, and that's largely a function that there's less. It's getting harder to find. Grouper and snapper are really not the main fish that's being filleted and sold as grouper and snapper. If we want to keep eating the prime things like lobster and conch, we definitely have to look at long term strategies and a whole comprehensive management."

Belize is one of the first countries to implement an ecosystem based fisheries management approach-that is, protecting pockets of each type of marine environment needed to support a healthy fish population. Seventeen marine protected areas have been established in Belizean waters- That's 20% of Belize's territorial sea. But only 2% of that area is protected from fishing.

Dr. Melanie McField
"Two percent of our sea is not enough to rebuild 98%... I think anyone can feel out that math and realize that's just not enough."

Full protection increased from 2 percent to 3 percent in 2012 when the Turneffe Reef Atoll was declared Belize's largest marine protected area.

Hon. Lisel Alamilla
"So from now on, we really should not be declaring any more protected areas; we might need to revisit boundaries, but there will not be a clamouring to declare anymore protected areas. So the focus will really shift into really enforcement; doing more research to understand if we are in fact effectively managing our marine protected areas."

Dr. Melanie McField is the Director of Healthy Reefs for Healthy People. She is advocating for expanding the boundaries of fully-protected zones within the MPAs.

Dr. Melanie McField
"We just need to do more because realistically if you think about what farmers do or foresters, you have to replant. You can't keep taking and taking and not replanting seed. We have always assumed the ocean was unending and you couldn't take everything from the ocean because there was so much of it and that's not true. We need to get that number up to 10, 15, 20 percent at some point in time in order to have and then we'll have more fish--we could potentially have a lot more being taken out in total stocks. Total lobster catch, total conch catch, and fin-fish catch could be much greater than it is now if we had more of it in full reserve with those big fish pumping out babies--that's what we need."

Success stories like the Hol Chan Marine Reserve show MPAs work. But replenishment takes time-years in fact-which means the fishers need to find income alternatives.

Part two of that story will air next week.

Channel 7

#461216 - 03/29/13 09:17 AM Re: Are Belize's Waters Overfished? [Re: Marty]
Marty Offline
And while fish sales were brisk today - prices were driven up somewhat by scarcity. That's due in part to the cold front the veteran seamen told us about, but it's also due to the fact that there are fewer fish in the sea. That's the theme of a feature by Special Correspondent Janelle Chanona.

We presented part one of her "Fish Tale" last week - and this week, we have part two, where she looks at the benefits of conserving the non-renewable fisheries resource:

Janelle Chanona Reporting

The fish debate is actually a bread and butter issue. Statistics for 2011 show that almost thirteen thousand Belizeans are direct beneficiaries while another thousand people are employed in the processing, marketing and service industries. Minute changes in the norm have widespread ripple effects.

A microcosm of this reality made headlines in April 2012 when local fishermen filled the quota for conch six weeks early.

Hon. Lisel Alamilla - Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development
"Fortunately, they were able to see the immediate benefits of it the following conch season and in fact, some of them have been so bold as to say, maybe we need to close it even earlier because this season has been very, very productive and so that was a bold decision to make."

But bold decisions aside, the "hand to mouth" scenario of the fishers put the spotlight squarely on diversification.

Celia Mahung - Director, TIDE
"Most fishers want to know that they can fish for life and so asking them to do an alternative is really asking a lot."

Celia Mahung is the Director of TIDE, the Toledo Institute for Development and the Environment. The organization continues to introduce new money making ideas to local fishers.

Celia Mahung
"There's a lot of planning that needs to take place in order for that project to work, the person has to be interested, you need to build the capacity of that individual in order for that person to do well and it takes an investment, it takes initial funding so that you can start your project up; there needs to be monitoring and evaluation of that project as you go along. It's no quick fix."

Hon. Lisel Alamilla
"That's what they know, that's what they do best. It's hard to tell them, well really maybe you should think about doing deep sea fishing because they are not used to that. So that is something that we are as a Ministry are tasked to introduce to them and to convince them that in fact they are opportunities that are unexplored and that they really should consider it and I think that increased or openness to that will really come from the younger fishermen."

According to Minister of Forestry, Fisheries and Sustainable Development Lisel Alamilla, under her watch, GPS trackers on fishing boats, tougher laws and harsher penalties will be tempered with increased support for diversification.

Hon. Lisel Alamilla
"I see my role as trying to bring opportunities and identify solutions at the level that I'm now functioning to see what we can bring to Belize to address those challenges but also important, I think, is that I'm not only looking to see how we can be better enforcers but really to see how we can create more economic opportunities for Belizeans, using our natural resources."

Promising alternative livelihood projects like tour guiding, fly-fishing and the seaweed initiative is already helping to generate hope for the future. But environmentalists and their supporters say any success at sea will be grounded in the public's support.

Evan "Mose" Hyde - Talk Show Host
"All over the world, people know what their national treasure is and they are connected to it. Well the reef is ours and it's our business. Every single one of us, it's our business."

Talk show host Evan "Mose" Hyde is one of the voices calling on the community for support.

Evan "Mose" Hyde
"I think it's our major obligation, I think that to have been given this responsibility to be custodians of this, true treasure of nature and it's the way we identify ourselves, like an ID badge. Anywhere we go, we say, we say who we are. I dah from Belize, we got the second largest barrier reef."

Roberto Pott - Healthy Reefs for Healthy People Initiative
"Consumers need to realize the impact they are having on the fishing industry. We won't buy a small egg--we complain about the small egg when you go to the grocery store. Don't buy undersize seafood because in the longer run, you will end up without. Because people think that we can't end there but that's what you are doing. You are taking away from the stock that will help reproduce come five years down the road and that's what we need to stop--and buying it out of season. It's the same thing that you are doing."

Dr. Melanie McField - Director, Healthy Reefs for Healthy People
"Because we need it--it is politics. These are difficult decisions and any politician that wants to stay in politics has to make decisions that they feel are going to keep the masses happy but I believe that the masses can understand this and do want to see the resources maintained in a long time. Our job then is to make ourselves vocal and visible and let the politicians know we are with them on those tough decisions that will give us resources in the long term. Because that's what we all want; everybody wants to see that reef vibrant, producing sea food, producing jobs and livelihoods and something that we all treasure."

That feature was produced in partnership with the Healthy Reefs Initiative.

Channel 7


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