Letter to the Editor, Amandala

Dear Editor,

I spent 5 idyllic days at Tobacco Caye… a place of such beauty and serenity… the Bush Kep was ready to give it all up and become a beach bum.

Yet, as with everything… there are issues, and some of the major issues plaguing the Caye are

1. With increased tourism Tobacco Caye has a serious waste management issue. Yet the Islanders claim that most of the garbage is brought in with the tide…no doubt refuse from all those cruise ships who have the right to jettison their garbage and bilge 3 miles offshore.

2. Islanders complain that they are targeted by Fisheries Unit on a regular basis… the Fisheries boat speeds by all the catamarans… sailboats… private boats of the resort owners… that are being captained by unlicened individuals who are running guests… and runs down the dory with three islander boys, ages 10-12, fishing for the sheer joy of it, and the morning’s breakfast.

3. Of concern to me was a flyer passing round the Island… inviting one to attend a meeting on “Organization”, and bearing the Managed Access label… I was concerned because the fishers were saying that Stann Creek Fisherman’s Association, and Conch were now “DONE.”

What did they mean? I was told that Fisheries personnel were telling the fisher folk if they did not “ride” with the “new association” being formed… they would not receive managed access… and that SCFA and Conch were now non-existent, and “played no role”.

Considering I have spent the past 10 months assisting the SCFA with communications and grant writing… I, as a STAKEHOLDER, decided I would attend this meeting to see what was up.

I arrived an hour late, when they had just finished running their power point presentation on “what is an organization”… and playing their card games… (Thank God).

I had promised myself to listen and record (nearly impossible)… I broke this promise when Ms.Nidia of Fisheries said a new organization was needed to represent the fishers of Dangriga, because the organizations in place were not “doing anything”… and that they sent messages to SCFA and Conch… and the info was not passed on to the association members. Well, considering that my daughter is the secretary, I know the issues they have with SCFA being ignored by Fisheries… I had to speak up… as did Mr. Lamb of Conch, who refuted this statement.

To not go into a long explanation of who said what… I will just explain the facts I gleaned from this meeting.

To Mr. Julio Mazz of the Wildlife Conservation Society, who threatened to sue me if I used his name online I say… What are you so afraid of Mr. Mazz? Have you never heard of freedom of speech… once I don’t defame you there is no legal issue… don’t be afraid of what I say or write… be afraid of what you are doing.

The Managed Access Technical committee, at the behest of four fishers of Griga has decided to do the following… To organize, register and fund a group of 27 fishers to form a “new” old association.

I say “new” old association because they will use the goals, objectives, articles of association, memorandum of association from the defunct Dangriga Fishers Association who broke up about five years ago to register this new group.

They will access the $20,000 that was returned by the Dangriga Fishers Association to the funders when a quarrel broke out on how to spend the grant funding… a non-issue to me, who knows that you spend grant funds according to the proposal you made to the funder… not how you want.

That the Managed Access Technical Committee will pay for the NGO registration of the group… some $800.00 at least, will help them access the $20,000… and will help them write a proposal under the new Climate Change Adaptation Funding coming out of the Community Climate Change Center .

Now… this is nice and well for those who have joined this new association… who now see “MANAGED ACCESS” within their grasp…and money and support in their future.

What we need to ask ourselves here is WHY does Fisheries refuse to help SCFA, which represents some 200 members? Is it simply for the hate they harbor against its “outspoken” leader? Is it not enough that they have removed him from his elected position as the Chairman of the Belize Fishers Federation? He, against whom it was only “alleged”, and no legal proceedings brought against, whilst their leader remains in his position, facing court proceedings? What kind of double standard is this??

And because they fear Mark McKenzie… and what he is espousing, which is fishers’ control over, and marketing of their own product… it all boils down to control of the dollars… keep the people poor and ignorant… and you can manipulate them at your will.

SCFA and its board have been receiving organizational training for the past four years via the Belize Fishers Federation and other NGOs… they have attended numerous workshops and training led by CZMAI, and other big players.

Why is this registered association, which is standing up for the fishers of Dangriga, who were left out of the Fisheries consultation process being victimized in such a blatant manner, and no one objects?

WHO is behind MANAGED ACCESS? Managed Access is supported by the Environmental Defense fund… the Wildlife Conservation Society, and the GOB here in Belize.
Yet, the “global initiative” to spread the concept of managed access is a foreign concept .

“The data collected in Belize are being used by the University of California, Santa Barbara to design a new global initiative called Fish Forever. Specifically, they will help standardize a Managed Access approach that can be adopted by Indonesia, the Philippines, and other countries.”

Belize is serving as the guinea pig in this effort by the First world countries to control the access of those that still have fishing industries… by doing this… the hope is the “overflow” from these viable fishing grounds will restock the areas they have depleted… we all want to”Fish Forever.”

While the basis and concept behind these theories are sound… as the catch is depleting… let us examine the why of it? By law, Belize requires only 5 percent of the nation’s catch to be left in country… 95% is up for sale…representing some $10.7 million in cash sales for Belize.

With 280 km of reef, Belize has the longest reef in the Western Hemisphere. With 395-559 million estimated value of the reef resources, fisheries, tourism, and shoreline protection, we are talking big money here… The fact that the “outside world” has been left practically fishless increases the importance of this resource… so once again we find that the indigenous population will be deprived of their cultural lifestyle in order to make money for the country, by having their access “managed”… and to add insult to injury… they must now collect data to support these foreign systems… being implemented against them, against their will, and if they have no education, and cannot keep their “logbooks”… they cannot get managed access… simple.

So what we find is instead of implementing their TURFS, or Territorial Users Rights for Fishing as they claim in theory… we have fishers from Sartaneja with big boats, holding 8, 10, 12 fishers and their dories, who go out, and scrape the areas they are given access to, such as the Glovers area. They are happy… Managed Access is wonderful… yes, their catch has increased… wonderful system this (and I am being sarcastic here if you did not catch on)… why would they not be happy… if all the local indigenous and traditional fishers, are kept out, so they can take the LION’S SHARE, leaving nothing behind but undersized… why should they not be happy?

Who is unhappy? The Garifuna fishers of Griga… who were bypassed in the consultation process… When Fisheries stepped in with too much attitude… and met resistance from the men of Griga,

Dangriga went down in BLACK AND WHITE… read it and weep… the South Water Caye Marine Reserve Management Plan calls the people of Dangriga…” the only group found to be openly aggressive to the consultation process”, and the only group of people found not to support the conservation effort.

To you I say BULLSHIT… approach is half the battle… if you step into someone’s “TURF” who are cultural fishers, and tell them they can no longer fish as they please, without taking in the cultural and language barriers, and are met with RESISTANCE… what should you do??? Rethink your approach… and make an effort to engage and help the people, for their benefit, and the benefit of the marine resource in question, this being the South Water Caye Marine Reserve… the second largest reserve in the country, and traditional fishing grounds of the Garifuna fishers of Griga.

Instead, the Griga fishers were left out of the consultation process… and only learned what was going on, and how they were being bypassed through the diligent efforts of the Stann Creek Fisherman’s Association… and for this… the SCFA is hated, and disrespected, and because Fisheries run the show SCFA will not receive any funding, once they require an endorsement from the Fisheries Department in order to get funding.

So we now find ourselves between a rock and a hard place… Our recent grant submission to the Mar fund to support an office for the SCFA, that they may engage and educate and assist the fishers of Dangriga has gone unanswered… we were to hear a reply by Friday past… yet nothing.

My question now is… who will help and assist the fishers of Griga? Don’t tell me the “NEW association”… they are babes in the woods… and have so much to learn… and their insistence at the behest of their organizers that “only full time fishers” be members of the organization, and allowed to speak at their meetings and give input led me to ask them yesterday?… Who will represent the fishers when you are all out fishing? Despite being asked to leave three times… I swallowed the disrespect dished out to me as a stakeholder and stayed till the bitter end.

So to the “new” old association I give this advice… get yourself a copy of the South Water Caye Marine Reserve Management Plan… A copy of the Poseidon consultants’ report… and a copy of the newly revised Fisheries Resource Act… and read them.

To the Stann Creek Fisherman’s Association… I say… NEVER SAY DIE… when one door is closed… many more are open… We will find a way… and never, ever be afraid to speak the truth.

Hyacinth Ysaguirre