OCEANA and the Northern Fishermen Cooperative this morning sealed a deal for the purchase of two trawling vessels. The agreement follows a ban on all forms of trawling in Belize’s territorial waters. Aside from purchasing the trawlers, OCEANA will also be providing funding to the cooperative for small eco-friendly loans and disaster relief. One of the main donors is Sir Thomas Moore, a New York litigator and author who has been a long time supporter of OCEANA. News Five’s Jose Sanchez was on hand at Young’s Law Firm for the proceedings.
Jose Sanchez, Reporting
Outlawing Bottom Trawling in Belizean waters comes with a price tag between six hundred and fifty thousand to eight hundred thousand dollars. This afternoon Oceana penned an agreement to purchase two vessels from Northern Fishermen Society.
Audrey Matura Shepherd
Audrey Matura Shepherd, V.P. Oceana Belize
“When government agreed that they did not mind supporting the ban, one of the biggest concerns was that once there was a ban, the Northern Fishermen Cooperative that owns these assets would have been left with an asset that had no value. So they had to look not only at the aspect of yes we want to assist in dong what’s best for environmental issues in Belize, but we have to look t the reality of what people make their livelihood on or the investments they’ve had. And so the buyout of the trawl was to make sure that they didn’t have that investment on their hand again and that we would purchase them instead and then Oceana Inc. that now owns the trawling will be accepting proposals to see how we should use them or who should get them. A total of eight hundred thousand Belize dollars has been invested in this deal and of that six hundred and fifty thousand goes for the value of the trawlers and the remaining one hundred and fifty goes towards the loan and grant agreement that goes to benefit directly the fishers at Northern Fishermen Cooperative being the ones who are giving up trawlers and giving up the industry. They were the only ones who were operating.”
Ovel Leonardo, Chairman, National Fishermen Cooperative
“Eighteen years ago that the government was trying to minimize on the amount of trawlers we had here or the amount of foreign boats coming into the country. And they said if the two coops don’t buy their personal boats, then no more trawling. So northern went ahead and purchased one boat then they purchased another one so there were only a couple boats in the country. From that time it is not easy to give up something that you fight hard. We fishers had a big problem to convince them that yes we gotta get something that we love. But at the end of the day, we want work in the best interest of the country. So that’s why Northern end up buying the two boats because they wanted to minimize the foreign boats that we had vengeance with and I should say we owned our two boats and we were proud to have our two boats. But this time come about and so we end up working with Oceana and the government.”
The agreement also includes a section that directs the cooperative to give small loans to its members from the grant given by Oceana Belize.
Audrey Matura Shepherd
“The grant will be managed through the bank with NFC and they are to use that one to give loans to their fishers. That’s why it is a grant slash loan. We get back nothing.”
“The coops are owned by the fishermen and it only makes sense that the fishermen realize and as a coop you show them what you do. So if the fishermen they get something small off the trawler which they were doing it for quite some years. This is the way that they will feel; yes we get something small from the trawlers. There is something they will get back and that is to encourage them.”
Audrey Matura Shepherd
“What you have to understand is one of the benefits is that by them selling the trawlers, they get to pay off a good portion of their loan with the bank and that is an obligation they want to get rid of. The other aspect that—you can confirm with Mister Ovel—is that the trawlers were not making and being as successful as it was at one point. With price of fuel going up, with them having to put one of the trawlers out of service, having to maintain the trawlers—dry dock them and everything—they found themselves losing little by little. They were only making enough money to keep on paying the bank. So if it was far more commercially viable it would not have been an easy negotiation. I am sure they would have demanded far more money. So it was a give and take too because the bank had to agree because by the bank releasing these vessels as a result of the buyout, they made certain compromises too. So the bank has to be also thanked for their role in it.”
Oceana does not intend to keep the vessels but is looking for organizations that can make use of the trawlers. Within a month Oceana expects proposals for their future use, which does not include trawling. Reporting for News Five, Jose Sanchez.
Belize is the first country to institute a complete ban on trawling.